Controversy surrounds anti-trespassing program in Cooper Young

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Businesses in Cooper Young are receiving backlash after taking part in a program meant to help curb crime.

The Shelby County District Attorney’s office created the anti-trespassing program after a business came to them with concerns of people selling drugs in a parking lot. It allows workers to skip a step in getting police to respond to trespassers or loiterers.

About 20 businesses are now enrolled.

When Cooper Young’s Neighborhood Watch approached businesses with the new anti-trespassing program, Mary Burns says she signed up her shop Java Cabana.

“I thought it was something the community/the neighborhood wanted, which is to cut down on crime," said Burns.

Neighborhood watch says thefts went up 200 percent in Cooper Young last year.

Armed robberies and break-ins also spiked, which is why several businesses were interested in the anti-trespassing program.

It allows them to call police right away if someone is loitering or trespassing on their property.

Police can also intervene if they see someone suspicious after hours.

The DA’s Office says the program started last June and it’s an extension of a program already in place for apartment complexes.

In the past, business owners would have to confront the person themselves first or fill out an affidavit to be served.

“It’s a way for a shop owner to put up a sign to say, ‘If you’re here to use our service then everybody is welcome. If you’re not, then please move along,'" said assistant district attorney Neal Oldham.

Businesses have recently been met with criticism for taking part.

Critics say the writing of the program allows police to arrest anyone walking around the property and that it further marginalizes groups.

“I was hurt and surprised because I think anyone who’s been into Java Cabana knows we are very open-minded, open-hearted," said Burns. "We serve as a community coffee shop, so it’s open to the community. We’re not trying to alienate, exclude anybody. Anybody’s welcome to come there and be a customer. "

Burns took down her sign after seeing it could be associated with hurting others.

However, the DA’s Office says the goal is for these signs to act as a deterrent.

“Nobody wants more people to be arrested," said Oldham. "This is to prevent crime.”

He says even if police are called, that doesn’t mean the trespassers will be arrested.

“The conversation has somehow changed to one: The issue of homelessness, which is a real concern in our city and two: That there’s this community of people who don’t trust our authority to do the right thing," said Burns.

Burns said she believes those issues deserve attention but separately from crime-prevention.

We reached out to the Cooper Young Business Association and Neighborhood Watch, but they didn’t want to comment on the matter.

This is a countywide program open to all businesses.

Some businesses in Cooper Young said they want to learn more about the program before putting their signs back up or enrolling.