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Cops: Burglaries at LI businesses surge post-Sandy

A warning sign on Sweezey's on New York

A warning sign on Sweezey's on New York Avenue in Huntington Station tells residents and Sandy to stay away (Oct. 30, 2012) Credit: Mackenzie Issler

          An Editor’s Note published July 12, 2017, about Kevin Deutsch’s reporting appears at the end of this story. 

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.

Overall, Nassau and Suffolk crime in the wake of Sandy was down due to declines in several other categories, records show.

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

Editor’s note: Newsday undertook an extensive, four-month review of reporting by Kevin Deutsch, who covered law enforcement from April 2012 to September 2016.

The review of the former Newsday reporter’s work began after The Baltimore Sun this year reported that law enforcement and other officials questioned the veracity of Deutsch’s nonfiction book “Pill City” about Baltimore’s drug trade. In addition, questions arose about individuals named in Newsday stories by Deutsch. Book publisher St. Martin’s Press and Deutsch have said they stand behind the book.

We are dedicated to accurate, factual reporting, to the highest journalistic standards and to maintaining our credibility with Newsday readers. We also are committed to being accountable to our readers. Newsday undertook the detailed review in that spirit and because of the concerns that were raised.

In late February, as our review was under way, The New York Times reported in an editor’s note that The Times “had been unable to locate or confirm the existence of two people who were named and quoted” in a Dec. 29, 2016, freelance article written by Deutsch. Deutsch “maintains that the interviews and the descriptions are accurate,” The Times wrote.

Newsday reviewed 600 stories with reporting by Deutsch. We contacted officials in the police departments regularly involved in Deutsch’s coverage. They said they had not had problems with his work. We then focused our research and reporting on individuals who, as described in the stories, would not be considered officials, or well-known, public figures.

The review found 77 stories with 109 individuals from Deutsch’s reporting whom Newsday could not locate. The main points of the stories were not affected. While two stories about the Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen were based on sources Newsday could not locate, other media reported the main points of those stories but with attribution from different sources.  In this story, Newsday could not locate: Mahvish Rhor and Tom Krenshaw. Newsday is attaching an editor’s note to each story online that contains individuals we cannot locate.

Here’s how Newsday conducted the review:

Researchers and reporters searched local and national public records, sites providing nationwide people searches, databases of business, real estate and conviction records, social media sites including Facebook, LinkedIn and and nationwide news archives. They searched potential alternate spellings and other name variations. Their reporting followed potential leads they found through research, within stories and in information shared by Deutsch during the review.

Finding people after publication, in some cases years later, can be difficult because of changes in residence, circumstance and contact information. Some may not have given their real names.

On the law enforcement beat, reporters may encounter people who lead lives that are not reflected in public records or other sources of information that would help locate them. It is possible that some on our list were difficult to find or reluctant to respond to our review because they are undocumented immigrants, those battling or recovering from addiction or people involved in or around illegal activity.

Some on our list were described discussing crimes in their neighborhoods, and others as relatives, friends or neighbors of victims or as individuals living near or knowing those accused of crimes.

Others we have not been able to locate, though, are described as bystanders, neighbors, spectators, relatives of drug victims, witnesses to news events or related in some way to people in the news. Still others are described in stories as people actively engaged in public issues, such as activists, protesters and marchers. Many individuals on the list are described as local.

Deutsch said in email exchanges with Newsday that “I have no doubt about the veracity of the claims of the sources I quoted.” He also said, “Not a single public official, source, or other interviewee has raised any issues with even one of these stories.”

“It's impossible for any reporter to know whether the name given to him by interviewees on the street--or those reached briefly by phone or email-- is that person's full and legal name, rather than an alias or variation of their real name (maiden names and certain common nicknames/abbreviations for first names are often published by newspapers, including Newsday.). But every one of the names on Newsday’s list was the name given to me by that interview subject, verbatim.”

During the four months of our review, Newsday shared questions and updates with Deutsch as we progressed in the search for individuals we could not locate. We requested notes and contact information. Deutsch sent us notes he said represented all individuals we were unable to locate and responded over the course of the review by email, sharing information he said was from his recollection and notes.

Reporters followed up on all information shared by Deutsch. He did not provide contact information for those on our list. Newsday reporters and editors sought unsuccessfully several times to meet with Deutsch to discuss his reporting and to review his notes together to ensure we were not missing contact information or other details that might help locate individuals. Deutsch maintained that the notes he shared “serve as evidence of interviews” with each source.

Deutsch said he kept contact information in a Rolodex he left behind at Newsday’s main office and in a company-issued cellphone he returned within a week after resigning on Sept. 6, 2016. Editorial staff did not find a Rolodex or other notes at our office, but found notes left at Newsday’s desk at a courthouse pressroom where he worked. We shared them with Deutsch and he confirmed they were his. As per company policy, the contents of the cellphone had been deleted immediately after Deutsch returned it to Newsday.

Maintaining the trust of our readers is essential to our mission.  If we are able subsequently to locate any individuals, we will update our stories.

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