Southold cops anticipate increase in break-in reports as part-time residents return

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley looks over police statistics in his office at police headquarters in Peconic.

Burglaries are on the rise in Southold and all over Long Island, and this is prime season for an uptick in reported break-ins as seasonal residents return to open their houses for the year, says Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley.

Chief Flatley, who took over the town’s top police post last summer, delivered an annual review of police statistics to the Town Board two weeks ago and plans to update those numbers every quarter for the Town Board to determine how the department should direct its resources , he said in an interview last week.

There were 109 burglaries in Southold Town in 2011, up from just 68 in 2010, a 60 percent increase. Two weeks ago police arrested four 18-year-olds after they were found with the proceeds from a series of burglaries in their car after a traffic stop not far from where they had reportedly burgled summer cottages near Deep Hole Creek in Mattituck.

Southold and Riverhead police are still investigating whether the youths are connected to other recent burglaries, the chief said.

He cautioned that residents in summer cottage areas should take extra care to ensure they don’t become easy targets for burglars.

“Summer homes that are uninhabited have always been a target,” he said. “We’ve had burglars rip through Peconic Bay Boulevard.

They definitely make prime targets. But we’re lucky we’re not living in an area where people break in when residents are in their houses.”

Burglaries of summer homes are often more difficult to investigate, since homeowners often don’t discover the damage until weeks or months after the burglars have made off with the contents of the homes.

“Reports spike at the end of March, in April and May,” the chief said.

He recommended that seasonal homeowners have someone regularly check on their properties, pick up their newspapers and shovel the driveways when it snows.

“Make the house look lived in,” he said.

Another series of about a half dozen burglaries just before Christmas targeted Latino residents of Greenport, said Mr. Flatley. He added that whoever was behind those break-ins likely had knowledge that the residents kept large quantities of cash and jewelry in their homes.

He said the department has some leads and is continuing its investigation.

The 2011 crime stats also identified an uptick in graffiti cases, which increased 64 percent, from 25 incidents in 2010 to 41.

Chief Flatley said it’s possible to set up remote camera systems at graffiti hot spots, but in Southold “a lot is random stuff.” He added that even if someone were caught on videotape, the person would still need to be identified.

“To actually catch someone in the act is very difficult,” he said.

The police department maintains a file of graffiti photos that can be used in the search for a connection between different “tags,” the term used to describe symbols created by individual graffiti artists, found throughout town.

Drug crimes also saw a nearly 40 percent spike year-over-year, from 38 in 2010 to 53 in 2011. Chief Flatley said that number is not indicative of an increasing drug problem in Southold but of a more coordinated effort between the town and other members of the East End Drug Task Force in apprehending drug dealers.

“We’ve been aggressive in narcotics cases,” he said.

Drunken-driving offenses have been on the decline for the past three years, with 125 DWI arrests reported in 2009, 105 reported in 2010 and 103 reported in 2011.

Chief Flatley said he believes those numbers are a direct result of declining manpower on the police force, which had 52 officers at its peak and is now operating with just 46. In addition, he said, state funding to pay police overtime costs for DWI, seat belt and aggressive driving enforcement has been cut in half.

“That’s the trend,” he said. “We have to work within the boundaries of what we can afford.”

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