The Monday afternoon shooting of a beloved store owner in the Hilton neighborhood of Maplewood was a shock to residents, business owners and town officials.
Ken Parmar, longtime owner of MS&K Confectionary on Prospect Street near Springfield Ave., was shot in the torso by a man who allegedly attempted to rob him, said police. Parmar is said to be in stable condition and recovering from his wounds.
The incident has surprised and dismayed residents and local business owners, but many still believe the neighborhood is safer now than it used to be.
Pete Kikianis, owner of the Park Wood Diner on Springfield Avenue, said the robbery was very unfortunate but could have happened anywhere.
"We have been here for eight years...and have never felt threatened or had any incidents," he said. "I believe Springfield Avenue is getting better and better." He noted that there are more high-quality stores opening up, and that police can be frequently seen patrolling the area.
"I feel very safe," he said.
Edo O'Bannon, owner of Edo's Cakes across the street from MS&K, said he wasn't worried. "People think this kind of thing doesn't happen in Maplewood, but it happens everywhere," he said. O'Bannon said he had been considering installing a security camera for some time, and that now might be the time.
He said he often sees police on foot and car patrol. "They're always around," he said. "You can't go ten or fifteen minutes without seeing a cop."
"I live three blocks away, I go to Kenny's store," said Mayor Vic DeLuca. "It's horrible what happened."
DeLuca said he had been in contact with Police Chief Robert Cimino. "The Chief is fully authorized to utilize overtime to do what he has to do," said DeLuca. "He is focusing on the area right now." He said police had already stepped up patrols in recent weeks, in response to several break-ins.
"This is not the norm, and we are on it," he said.
A visit to the store early Tuesday afternoon, 24 hours after the shooting, found two handwritten "Closed" signs on the door and some puzzled patrons.
"There was a shooting here?" asked one man who had tried to enter the store. "Oh, damn."
A man who described himself as a longtime customer said he was glad Parmar was OK but that he wasn't surprised by the incident. "It happens everywhere, it is a fact of life the way it is today." The man said he thought safety had declined in town in the forty years he has lived here. "It's all over, [and police] don't report everything. [But] the cops do what they should be doing."
In a ten-minute visit to the store, two police cars were spotted driving down Prospect Street near Springfield Avenue in the location of the store.
In a phone interview with Patch, Cimino said such a violent daytime incident was unusual for Maplewood. "It is outside of what our experience has been recently," he said.
He continued, "I take it as a personal affront. I know Kenny, and I was really sad about it. My heart goes out to him."
Cimino confirmed there was cash taken in the robbery, but would not say how much or whether it came from the store's ATM or the cash register. "We are gathering leads based on evidence," said Cimino, who added that police had not yet identified a suspect.
Cimino said the case was a priority and that a team of detectives had been assigned to investigate. The Essex County Prosecutor's Office was aiding the department in collecting evidence.
"We are putting in a ton of resources" in the investigation and "are working day and night," he said.
He said the department would employ additional patrolling by uniformed officers and unmarked patrols and would adjust that as the investigation moves forward. "We work from an intelligence-based policing strategy, and are constantly in contact with neighboring communities."
Cimino said there were always foot patrol officers assigned to the area. "We do team policing," he said, noting this is the same "consistent strategy" the PD employs in Maplewood Village and Irvington Avenue.
"When a shocking crime like this happens, there is a perception that crime is on the rise," Cimino said. But, he continued, "everyone has to take a step back and realize that the town in 2012 and 2013 is significantly down in total crime over the past decade," especially violent crime.
He said the violent crime rate in Maplewood currently was 2 residents per 1,000, which Cimino called "very low."
Cimino emphasized that residents should report to police when they see anything suspicious or that makes them feel uncomfortable. "We can only make an arrest based on someone's behavior," he said. "It is very difficult to make [an arrest] unless we have a cause to make a stop legally."
Township Committee member Marlon K. Brownlee, chair of the Public Safety Committee, said town officials were continuing to work with police in response to residents' concerns about safety in the area.
"We have increased our patrols in the Hilton area and the feedback from residents has been positive," said Brownlee. "We will continue to proactively evaluate and utilize various measures to ensure that Maplewood is a safe place for all."