A gunbattle earlier this month along a Benson street was the breaking point for its residents.
Some 20 cars were involved in the shootout, neighbors say. One car struck a tree, two other cars were abandoned in the street. Fleeing young men pounded on neighbors’ doors, trying to get in, one resident said. One home was struck by two bullets, including a bullet that traveled over the headboard of a bed. Two men in their 20s were wounded, police said.
A month earlier, gunfire left 21 casings on the street. And less than a week after this month’s shootout, there was another round of gunfire. Most activity took place after 11 p.m.
Part of the problem? Their street, North 58th Street from Maple to Pratt, is the fastest route away from the Benson Bucky’s Convenience Store that neighbors and police say has become a gang hangout.
The community they loved with its impromptu get-togethers, welcoming porches and towering shade trees has been lost, they say, to chaos. And they want it back.
“This is a different level of chaos,” said Jake Chapman, whose home was struck by bullets July 19. “I’m a Marine veteran from Iraq, I’ve been shot at countless times, it’s not new to me. But it’s not something I expected to come home to.”
Chapman was among 40 or so Benson residents who met Tuesday evening with Omaha police and City Councilman Pete Festersen to seek solutions to an increase in violence.
“We would like to take our street back,” Amber Mercado said. “Please help us make our community safer.”
Little of what Omaha police heard was a surprise, they said.
“We have had this area in our front sights for quite a while,” said Capt. Laurie Scott. “This has been ... a hot spot, and we’ve increased our presence.”
Sgt. Tyler Stricker, who works in the gang unit, said a local gang has decided the Bucky’s is a good place to hang out. Progress is being made in dealing with the problem, even if the progress doesn’t seem obvious, he said.
Stricker said the problem is part of a citywide uptick of violence in recent weeks.
Neighbors say they’ve done everything they can think of: installed surveillance cameras and shared video with authorities, kept meticulous records, strengthened their neighborhood watch and called police when trouble breaks out.
A representative of Bucky’s said company officials met with Omaha police Tuesday morning.
Jason Ricks, director of operations, said the company will beef up security at the Bucky’s this week. Outside security cameras, which neighbors say the gas station has lacked, will be added, he said. The company plans to hire off-duty police officers, if possible as soon as this weekend.
The company will also consider closing off some of the store’s driveways or even closing the store at night. However, closing at night won’t solve the problem, he said, because people could still congregate in the parking lot. It may be that the company needs to close the store at night and prevent access to the parking lot.
“All options are on the table,” Ricks said.
He said he believes the station’s parking lot is popular because of its proximity to the bars in Benson, a popular Omaha nightlife district.
“We take it personally that we be good neighbors,” he said. “We want this to be a safe place, a great place to live, and we want to do everything we can to help.”
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