'Smash and grabs' jump 36%

September 22, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

A 36 percent increase in the number of "smash and grab" burglaries this year has aggravated tempers and increased expenses for many Howard County merchants, as thieves continue carting off cigarettes, cash registers, clothing and almost anything they can carry.

"It's frustrating," said Nancy Ervin, a supervisor at the High's store on Route 108, where 180 cartons of cigarettes were stolen about 4 a.m. Monday . An officer responding to an alarm found the Clarksville store's front door smashed.

"It's a major problem, and it's costly," Ms. Ervin said. "We can't stay up all night and watch out for people."

The High's store was one of five Howard County businesses robbed between shortly after midnight Saturday and early Monday morning.

In a typical smash and grab, the thieves use a brick or cinder block to shatter the front window of a business that has closed for the day, activating the alarm, then rush in, grabbing as much as possible within a minute or two before fleeing.

There have been at least 61 smash and grab burglaries in 1994, more than the 59 police recorded all of last year. The quick break-ins continue to account for a fraction of commercial burglaries, which totaled 448 in 1993, police said.

The crimes usually involve at least two suspects, who drive a car or truck to the location and empty stolen items into the vehicle before driving off. The busy U.S. 1 corridor in the eastern part of the county is heavily targeted. Cartons of cigarettes, which sell for about $18, are popular with thieves because they can be resold on the street, police said.

Police said they have officers patrol areas on foot, respond to business alarms within minutes and have made arrests in some cases. But the rapidity of the crimes makes arrests difficult.

"It seems whoever we arrest, there's someone out there to take their place right away," said Detective Sgt. Stephen Prozeralik, a supervisor in the crimes against property section.

Sunday morning, a day before police began investigating the burglary at the Clarksville High's store, officers arrested two Prince George's County men in the burglary of a Sunny's Surplus store in the 7500 block of U.S. 1 in Elkridge.

In that case, officers responding to a report of a breaking and entering in progress at 3 a.m. found the front window of the store broken. A witness gave police a description of the suspects, and the two men were stopped by state troopers several minutes later on Interstate 95 near Route 216.

The troopers, who reported finding stolen sweaters in the men's car, arrested them.

Store owners say that beyond the cost of the stolen property and cleaning up, they have to pay as much as $300 for new glass windows or doors.

"It makes you mad," said Debbie Neiswender, a manager at Dougal's Korner in Elkridge, who lost two days of pay while the store was boarded up as it awaited repairs this month.

Sergeant Prozeralik said police conduct surveillance in areas where many of the thefts have occurred.

"Unless you make your building a fortress, somebody's going to find a way to get in," he said.

The thieves usually vary their pattern, targeting stores in the county for a few days, then revisiting weeks later. Frequently, police who make an arrest are able to link a suspect to similar break-ins in other counties.

For instance, Sergeant Prozeralik said police are preparing a warrant for a Baltimore man who is being held in the Baltimore County jail on charges of robbing a pharmacy and a High's store in Woodlawn and Landsdowne.

He is thought to be the same man filmed by a security camera about 2:55 a.m. Sept. 4 as he rammed a car into the double glass door at Dougal's Korner in Elkridge three times. The man was then filmed entering the business and loading about 80 cartons of cigarettes into a large trash can before driving away. Sergeant Prozeralik said.

Police say the man also is a suspect in a recent robbery in Anne Arundel County in which a car was used to smash into a business.

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