Cops: Burglaries at LI businesses surge post-Sandy
Long Island saw a dramatic increase in commercial burglaries after superstorm Sandy, particularly in hard-hit areas without power, police records show.
From Oct. 30 through Nov. 5 -- the week immediately following the Oct. 29 storm -- reports of burglaries at businesses in areas patrolled by Nassau County police rose from 12 last year to 73 this year, a 508 percent increase, department statistics show.
In Suffolk County, between Oct. 28 and Nov. 14, the number of commercial burglaries reported rose to 117 in areas patrolled by Suffolk County police, from the 70 reported during that period in 2011 -- a 67 percent increase, police records show. Specific statistics for only the week following Sandy were not immediately available.
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Residents along the South Shore in both counties also reported thefts from their homes in the days following Sandy, though the number of residential burglaries was down compared with the same period last year. Residential burglaries from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5 dropped from 44 to 39 in Nassau and decreased between Oct. 28 and Nov. 14 from 212 to 171 in Suffolk.
Some of the areas hardest hit by the storm were in Suffolk's First Precinct, including Babylon, Lindenhurst and Copiague. That precinct's commanding officer, Gerard Gigante, said that there was a spike in crime by what he called opportunistic people during the first two nights after Sandy.
"Most of the increase was in the Wyandanch area," he said, adding that residential burglaries took place in areas without power.
Arrests in Nassau, Suffolk
Suffolk police have arrested some of people in connection with those burglaries, said spokesman Dep. Insp. Kevin Fallon.
"During and after the storm, the Suffolk County Police Department . . . focused on responding to lifesaving efforts, crime suppression activities in those residential areas hardest hit by the storm, traffic safety at intersections with non-working traffic lights and maintaining order at gas stations," Fallon said.
"The fact that some individuals took advantage of these situations to commit crimes of opportunity, including commercial burglaries, is reprehensible," Fallon said.
In Nassau, Chief of Department Steven Skrynecki attributed some of the increase in commercial burglaries to criminals taking advantage of vulnerable locations in blacked-out areas.
He cautioned that the numbers may be artificially inflated due to a few people falsely reporting property as stolen for insurance purposes -- or unknowingly reporting property as stolen that was later found.
Despite the spike in reported burglaries, Skrynecki said the situation could have been much worse had the department not deployed a special "property security detail" -- officers from the gang unit and other sections were assigned specifically to deter burglaries after Sandy.
As many as 160 extra squad cars patrolled the county some nights in areas with power outages and flood damage, the chief said.
"Our increased patrols and operational adjustments had a significant impact in mitigating criminal activities when you consider the extent of the power outages, how many people were displaced, how many homes and businesses were vacated, and the opportunity for criminal activity those situations create," Skrynecki said.
Some business owners said the beefed-up police presence failed to prevent criminals from targeting their properties.
Todd Svec, a co-owner of Arlo Drug Store in Massapequa Park, said a 16-year-old boy was accused of breaking the storefront window and stealing scores of pills, including Xanax, on Nov. 1. It was one of at least four pharmacy burglaries reported in the week after the storm, Nassau police said.
"A lot of businesses were targeted, because people took advantage of the outages and alarms being out," said Svec, 49. "There were desperate people out there."
Mahvish Rhor, a worker at the Syosset Dairy Barn, which was burglarized on Oct. 30, called the number of post-Sandy break-ins "way too many."
"For those of us who were looted, we don't consider ourselves lucky," Rhor said. "Yes, it could have been worse if there weren't more police on the streets. But it was pretty bad as it is. Too many people lost too much property."
Three teens were arrested and charged with stealing about $880 worth of beer, cigarettes, cigars and cookies from the store at 15 Berry Hill Rd., police said.
In a separate incident, four men were arrested Oct. 30 for breaking into Xpressions video store in Hempstead after police caught them driving around with a car full of burglary tools looking for storm-damaged stores, records show.
"They were looking for places to loot, and we were unlucky enough to be in their path," said Tom Krenshaw, an employee at the video store.
South Shore bears brunt
Areas with dramatic increases in commercial burglaries included Nassau's Fourth Precinct, which encompasses hard-hit South Shore communities including Lido Beach, Lawrence, Woodmere and Island Park. The number of commercial burglaries in the precinct rose to 35 in the week following the storm, up sharply from the three cases reported during that period last year.
Nassau's First Precinct also saw a significant increase, records show, with commercial burglaries rising from zero last year to 15 in the week after Sandy. That precinct also covers South Shore communities hit hard by flooding, including Baldwin Harbor, South Hempstead, Roosevelt and North Merrick.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, whose office is prosecuting the 16 burglary suspects arrested in the week following the storm, said she will show no leniency to criminals who took advantage of power outages.
"Those who see criminal opportunity in this storm's devastation will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law by my office," Rice said. "No plea bargains. No reduced charges."
Even now, Nassau police say, they are still concerned about the threat of Sandy-related crime in areas where people were forced to leave storm-damaged homes.
Last week, the police department issued an alert urging any resident concerned about the security of their unoccupied home or business to contact their local precinct.
"We will continue to have a significant presence" in storm-damaged communities, Skrynecki said. "Maintaining public safety throughout this disaster is an incredible law enforcement challenge."
With Tania Lopez and Matthew Chayes