Shooting sparks unrest at businesses

Published 10:24 am Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A week ago, Jeff Brinkman thought the idea of locking the doors to his business during work hours seemed ridiculous, but in the aftermath of a shooting two doors down it became reality.

Brinkman, who owns Brinkman Claims Service at 106 First Ave. SE, said he is concerned for all neighboring businesses after a Monday night shooting that left one man injured at 200 First St. SE.

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“This is really a sign of the times, when business owners are locking their doors during the day. To me, that’s not being paranoid,” Brinkman said. “When you’re afraid for your safety to stay here and you’re two blocks south of the Law Enforcement Center, that’s a problem.”

Although Tuesday morning wasn’t the first time Brinkman has worried about the safety of his customers and employees, the shooting pushed his worries over the edge.

“What is most disturbing is nobody is surprised that it happened,” he said. “When you expect things to happen, you know the problem is out of hand.”

Brinkman was especially alarmed by the shooting because he had been at his office when it happened. Shortly before police arrived, someone had tried to enter his building through the back door, but when he turned on the light the person fled. Within a few minutes, Brinkman saw police at the apartment complex on the corner.

“Whether it be coincidence or not, somebody tried to open my door, and then somebody got shot,” he said. “We’re going to lock the doors.”

Mike Ruzek, who owns the 110 Building next door to the scene of the shooting, said he is also taking safety precautions in light of the recent events. Although he hasn’t resorted to locking his doors during work hours, he is installing wire mesh on some of his windows and considering getting a security system.

“I’ve been in this building since 1984 … and in all that time, we have not had any issues of safety until about five years ago,” Ruzek said. “I would never have my wife work down here at night.”

Brinkman is on the same page as Ruzek. He said he always makes sure his secretary, who is a female, has somebody with her if she works at night.

Brinkman thinks an ordinance keeping landlords more accountable would be a step toward cutting down on crime.

“Condition of property is a huge issue when it comes to crime,” Brinkman said. “The victim (of the shooting) may not have even done anything wrong — he’s a victim of the area.”

As a response to Monday night’s incident, Brinkman sent a letter of concern to the mayor, saying the shooting is not a surprise to him.

In the letter, Brinkman states, “I am interested in any suggestions you may have in resolving the issues with Austin’s newest slum created by landlord neglect, misuse of property and the further lack of initiative to enforce any type of ordinance or code to address deteriorating property conditions and safety issues that exist throughout this area.”

The mayor and City Council have been discussing the possibility of a landlord ordinance to improve rental property conditions and cut crime in Austin.

Police Chief Brian Krueger, who said Tuesday that the general public should not be worried for their safety after the shooting, said business owners can take the precautions they feel necessary to keep their businesses and employees safe.

“They need to feel safe and comfortable,” Krueger said. “They should take the appropriate measures to accomplish that.”