Reported burglaries in the Rockaways have spiked as much as 500 percent so far this year as residents returning to homes and businesses damaged in superstorm Sandy continue to find their structures have been picked over by thieves, according to police.
Burglary reports dramatically escalated in the area immediately after the storm, but the increase has continued as locals regain access to their dwellings and take a close look at what has been lost while their homes were vacated, a police spokesman said.
In addition, some church leaders on Staten Island said their relief efforts also have been easy pickings for thieves.
"They are like roaches, they keep coming back, that is what hurts me," said the Rev. John Rocco Carlo, a former NYPD captain who is senior pastor of the Christian Pentecostal Church on Staten Island, which has had supplies pilfered a number of times.
In the Rockaways, complaints of burglaries in the 100th Precinct, which covers Belle Harbor and Rockaway Park, have increased 500 percent this year from the same period in 2012. Such complaints have increased by 250 percent in the 101st Precinct, which encompasses Far Rockaway and Edgemere, according to police statistics released Monday.
Aside from personal property, items that have been reported stolen include scrap metal, appliances, wiring and wood.
"We found that the spike was centered in those areas hit hardest by the storm and may reflect not only people reporting [losses] late but property still being unoccupied, and we are conscious of that," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
On Staten Island, some people whose homes have been refurbished in the city's Rapid Repair program have seen their newly installed water heaters taken away by people posing as repairmen who claim the wrong items were put in, Carlo said. A city Department of Investigation official said the agency has not received such a complaint.
The burglary increases come at a time when the city overall is seeing a drop of 13 percent for that category, records show.
Kevin Boyle, editor of the Rockaways weekly newspaper, The Wave, said he hasn't heard of a spate of new burglaries, although he agreed that returning residents may be discovering losses.
"A few houses had 'We shoot looters' signs -- that sentiment prevails," Boyle said.
On Staten Island, churches banded together after Sandy and set up four distribution hubs for relief supplies, Carlo said. But it wasn't long before organized groups, using hired vans, started breaking into locked church parking lots to take away pallets of bottled water, diapers and paper goods.
"Whatever they could see would make a quick profit," Carlo said.