Quieter nights for station neighbors

SuperAmerica ends use of loud security system

THE WEDGE — Neighbors of the SuperAmerica gas station at 2200 Lyndale Ave. S. won a quiet victory in November.

In March, the station installed a new, high-tech security system designed by the security firm Westec InterActive. Westec employees monitored a video feed from the station, and were able to access the SuperAmerica’s intercom system to speak directly to customers.

Neighbors who were concerned about noise and crime associated with the station might have welcomed the security upgrade. But when the intercom started blaring in the wee hours of the morning, they were "blown out of bed," as neighbor Carol Wilson put it at the time.

In November, Wilson was sleeping a bit better.

"At first, they turned it down, but it was still audible too often," Wilson said.

Then, in October, it seemed that barking over the intercom had ceased, at least at night.

"It’s improving, and we’re happy with the improvements," she said.

SuperAmerica spokeswoman Linda Casey confirmed Westec no longer uses the intercom system to speak directly to customers. Video cameras are still monitored, but the response to criminal activity has been modified.

"We worked very closely with the neighborhood association and made some modifications that seemed to have worked well," Casey said.

An ‘outstanding tool’

Lt. Ed Frizell of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct said the station’s video surveillance system was an "outstanding" tool for police. Footage from the cameras helped police identify suspects in several serious crimes, Frizell said.

"It’s captured some fantastic video," he said.

Still, some regarded the blasts over the intercom as overkill.

"I think SuperAmerica realized, themselves, it was a little over-the-top for the neighborhood," Frizell said.

When the Westec system was installed at the station in March, it was in use at only 12 or 13 of about 150 metro-area SuperAmerica stations. Casey said it was installed only where safety concerns justified the expense of the system.

Police records show there were 118 calls for service to the station in 2006, up from 64 in 2000.

Westec spokesman Kevin Key said the security system was designed with employee safety in mind.

Instead of dealing with "bad elements" on the property themselves, Key said, station employees can signal Westec security experts. Westec then monitors video feed from the cameras and can call in police if necessary.

"It definitely deters crime and, in fact, neighborhoods typically welcome the addition of remote video monitoring into businesses," he said. "Once the bad element understands they will be on video, they tend to stay away from that business."

Key said gas stations make up a "large portion" of Westec’s security business. He had no record of another station ending Westec’s use of intercoms because of noise complaints.

"This is, in our opinion, a very unique situation," he said.

Other issues remain

Steve Benson, who has lived in the area of the station for 15 years, said he, too, was getting better sleep in November.

"Certainly, it has improved significantly with getting rid of the speaker system," Benson said.

Still, he said, the neighborhood had a laundry list of issues it was still working on. They are neighbors not just with a 24-hour gas station, but also four busy bars, a public parking lot and late-night coffee shops.

Benson said the relationship between neighbors and SuperAmerica — which brought in new management and an off-duty police officer this year — was improving. Other area business owners seemed more sensitive to the families living next door, he added.

But litter, noise and late-night traffic are problems that take time to address.

"As always on these sort of things, there’s rarely the silver bullet," he said.