Long Island police departments are battling to reverse a rising number of burglaries hitting homes and business -- even as most major categories of crime have sharply declined.
Both county agencies vow to combat the upswing by deciphering burglary patterns and targeting more units to hard-hit areas.
"Burglary is an intrusion into people's personal lives. Clearly it's upsetting to the victim because it's an area of your life where you expect security," said Steven Skrynecki, Nassau's chief of department. "It's a sanctuary. When somebody invades that, it's upsetting to the victim, so it's obviously upsetting to us, so we take it very seriously."
In Nassau, burglaries reported to the county police are up 69 percent for the first six weeks of the year compared with roughly the same period last year, according to crime statistics for communities the department patrols. Burglaries of homes surged nearly 111 percent in the first six weeks of 2012. This year's spike comes after a 5 percent rise in reported burglaries in 2011 compared to 2010.
Suffolk police saw a nearly 8 percent increase in burglary reports comparing 2010 to 2011, the only crime category to go up. Year-to-date figures weren't available.
Suffolk police Sunday arrested two people suspected of a series of residential burglaries dating to 2010 after a resident of Wyandanch Road in Sayville called 911 to report a man climbing through a window in a neighbor's home.
Skrynecki said he's made burglary prevention the top focus of the 2,380-member Nassau police force.
"I made it very clear to all members of the department that burglaries are our number-one concern right now," Skrynecki said in an interview last week. "That is the area that we are focusing our significant amount of resources right now."
Skrynecki, the highest-ranking uniformed officer, made the point in Mineola on Wednesday at the department's Nass-Stat meeting, the monthly session at police headquarters of precinct commanders, detective squad supervisors and other officials who discuss crime trends, trade crime-fighting ideas, and face scrutiny from department brass.
Seek significant impact
He said he's putting the focus on burglaries because overall crime is down 10 percent over the past two years, but burglary crime is one of the few areas with notable increases.
"You can significantly impact the crime statistics and save an awful lot of people from the distress of returning home and finding that their house has been broken into," Skrynecki said.
The game plan in Suffolk is similar to Nassau's. Among the ideas, according to police spokesman Deputy Insp. Kevin Fallon, is to deploy targeted burglary patrols, identify patterns and pass the intelligence through the chain of command, and debrief arrested burglars about other burglars and where the criminals are selling the stolen goods.
Officials blame the burglary uptick on a variety of factors, from desperate junkies craving money for opiate painkillers to the high price of precious metals. And the weather. Last year's snow and cold might have kept prospective burglars inside, Skrynecki said.
"At this time last year," he said, "we were under snow from almost the beginning of the year through February."
In some of the crimes, serial burglars target places close to major highways, so they can get in and out quickly. In others, burglars are targeting their own neighborhoods because they're close, such as a Bethpage man who struck on his own block, police say.
Officials say they're putting extra officers in problem spots.
"We're saturating areas where we're seeing burglary patterns arise," Skrynecki said.
Declines in violent crimes
In Nassau, despite the increase in burglaries and a nearly 5 percent increase in robberies, overall major crime stayed level, increasing just 0.38 percent in 2011. In Suffolk, overall crime decreased 2.7 percent in the same period.
While all police agencies are required to report crime in a uniform way to the FBI annually, the final numbers are not yet publicly available. The statistics Nassau provided to Newsday are based on New York State penal law crime categories. Suffolk's preliminary figures for Newsday more closely align with what it reports to the FBI.
To combat the rise in burglaries, Nassau is parachuting in officers from varied commands -- such as special operations, plainclothes, gang specialists and highway patrol -- into places where analysts think criminals might strike.
They're called CIRRT cops, short for Criminal Intelligence Rapid Response Team, and are deployed based in part on leads from the department's Lead Development Center, housed in a converted schoolhouse on the grounds of the county police academy in Massapequa Park.
Lawrence Kobilinsky, a John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor, said police can make a major dent on the burglary problem by arresting even just a few burglars.
"Once you start catching burglars, the rate goes down," Kobilinsky said. "The fact is that for many of these guys it's not a single crime that they commit. They commit crimes over and over till they're caught."