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Bodega Owners Press City To Pass Bill To Reimburse For Panic Buttons; NYPD Says Bodega Crimes Up 25% Since Start Of Pandemic

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The NYPD says crime at bodegas is up by almost 25% since the coronavirus pandemic started nine months ago.

Some bodega owners are now asking the city to advance a bill that would reimburse them for panic buttons. But as CBS2's Lisa Rozner reported, the legislation has been stalled for a year.

The NYPD says shooting incidents at bodegas are up more than 63% since the pandemic started.

There countless examples, like a gunman who pushed his way behind a bodega counter in the Melrose section of the Bronx in October. Another walked into a Morris Heights bodega in November while a different man leaped over a 5-year-old girl to steal a drawer containing $700.

Twenty percent more people have been murdered, including 26-year-old Mohmediyan Tarwala, who worked in Ozone Park, Queens.

"We're over here putting our life in danger to provide food for the neighborhood," said Dee Morel, owner of Pioneer Supermarket.

MORE: Bodega Owners Say NYPD's Response To Increase In Robberies Is Lacking

That's why Councilman Mark Gjonaj is, again, asking the de Blasio Administration to move along a bill he introduced last year, called "Junior's Law."

It's named after 15-year-old "Junior" Guzman Feliz, who was dragged out of a Bronx bodega and stabbed to death.

His mother, Leandra, has said a bodega panic button may have saved his life.

Under the bill, the city would reimburse small businesses for the purchase and installation of panic buttons.

"It notifies the NYPD. They'll be a sound or mechanism outside that notifies the community that something's going on inside," said Gjonaj, who chairs the council's small business committee.

But the NYPD says panic buttons are not advisable. In the past, the department has said it prefers that people call 911 so officers know the kind of situation they're walking into.


"It's very inexpensive and we can't put a dollar value on life. Everyone uses them... It's being stalled by the administration," said Gjonaj.

Gjonaj estimates it would cost a couple hundred dollars and he would first plan to have some of the city's 10,000 bodegas participate in a pilot program.

"God forbid, anything can happen if you try to pick up the phone," said New Morris Deli owner Sal Alghaithi.

"The cameras are already very expensive," said Yahay Obeid, outreach director at the Bronx Muslim Center.

"We do feel tremendously disrespected and overlooked," said Gene DeFrancis, director of the Allerton Merchants Association.

A spokesperson for the mayor's office would only say the administration is reviewing the bill.

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