Greenport Village business owners banding together against crime with app

After observing numerous criminal acts, such as shoplifting and the use of counterfeit money, Gustavo Acero came up with a plan: get the Greenport business community together and find a solution.

The owner of Greenport’s Not Just Bows teamed up with his sister-in-law, Mireya Torres of Simply Beautiful Boutique, and his sister, Patty Carlos of Di Angela Leather, to create a network of local business owners who will actively share information with each other about “delinquency and punishable behavior.”

Beginning July 4, nearly 50 business operators, supported by Southold Town Police Chief Martin Flatley, began using a texting thread through the cellphone messaging app WhatsApp to alert one another about these incidents as they occur.

“Last year someone was going around using fake dollar bills,” Mr. Acero said. “That’s how I came up with the idea about uniting the community so they can inform each other when this happens.”

Chief Flatley said due to the larger number of businesses in downtown Greenport, the village sees more criminal activity than other hamlets in Southold Town. No statistics were immediately available.

Ms. Carlos said in the past when an incident occurred she would notify Mr. Acero and Ms. Torres, as well as adjacent businesses, but it was often time-consuming.

Mr. Acero realized having a quicker way to notify more business owners could be beneficial. He went door-to-door visiting every business with a letter explaining his idea and asking them to join the group texting effort, which they’ve named GPO Quick Response Group.

Chief Flatley said the police department is cooperating with the participants and monitoring the app, which can be used to send written information and photos or videos from security cameras. Although the chief is in the WhatsApp texting thread, businesses still need to call the department to report incidents.

“It’s not meant to replace the phone call to the police,” Ms. Carlos said of the GPO Quick Response Group. “It’s just in addition to it … we figured we could work together to do something good to help the police and help each other.”

It is hoped that if someone pays with counterfeit money at one business, for example, the information about the perpetrator can be put in the text thread and employees elsewhere will know who and what to look for so they don’t accept counterfeit money. In the past, two or three stores could be affected before people realized they’d accepted fake currency, Chief Flatley said.

“Our goal is to inform each other in case something happens in one store, other owners in the other stores can know and inform their employees,” Mr. Acero said.

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Photo: Patty Carlos, owner of Di Angela Leather in Greenport and one of the creators of GPO Quick Response Group, shows the texting chain designed to alert Greenport business owners to illegal activity affecting village businesses. (Credit: Nicole Smith)