In November 2013, a teenager robbed Springs Wines and Liquors at gunpoint and fled the scene. Just a week later, a duo armed with a handgun robbed the Corner Closet store in Sag Harbor. At the end of the month, a man robbed the Valero gas station in Westhampton Beach at gunpoint.
But despite that mini-crime wave, theft crimes across the South Fork, especially robberies, are not in fact on the upswing. According to East Hampton and Southampton police departments, the number of such crimes has remained stable for the past five years, and in some cases was even lower in 2013 than it was in 2009 and 2012.
Robberies, which are defined as forcible stealing by inciting fear, often at gunpoint, were down 9 percent, with 23 reported across the South Fork in 2009 and 21 in 2013.
Such incidents seemed to peak in 2009 and in 2011 in both towns. There were 23 cases, most in Southampton Town, which includes many villages and hamlets.
Southampton Town had 19 robberies in 2009 and 21 in 2011. East Hampton Town and Village police recorded four in 2009 and two in 2011.
Captain Chris Anderson with the East Hampton Town Police said some robberies reported within his jurisdiction were deemed unfounded after investigation. He said there is no real indication of a neighborhood or hamlet that sees more of these types of crimes.
“Violent crimes [like armed robberies] are consistent,” he said. “There are no specific indicators regarding numbers that have us concerned at this point in time.”
Within Southampton Town, Flanders and Riverside had the most robberies in those years. In 2009, Southampton Town Police reported five robberies in Flanders and seven in Riverside. In 2011, there were three in Flanders and four in Riverside—but the hamlet of Hampton Bays took the lead with six, according to Southampton Town Police records.
Lieutenant Michael Zarro of the Southampton Town Police Department said there really was no pattern in the robberies reported, but that Hispanic workers who lived in Riverside and Flanders were often victims of robberies, burglaries and larcenies, because the perpetrators believed many workers keep cash on them rather than depositing their money in a bank.
Southampton Village, which enjoyed a lower number of robberies, has seen three over the course of five years since 2009. Two of those were in 2011, according to Southampton Village Police Detective Sergeant Herman Lamison.
“When we have a crime that is significant in any way, people tend to think there’s a lot more than that one, because we don’t have that type of crime all the time,” he said.
Of all theft crimes, larceny, which is the theft of another person’s property, from jewelry to cash and electronics, had the highest number of incidents across both towns in each year. Still, in 2013, victims reported 7 percent fewer than they did in 2009 across the South Fork, from 1,468 incidents to 1,369.
Southampton Town reported a slight increase in larcenies: from 1,004 cases up to 1,015 from 2009 to 2013. In East Hampton Town, the numbers were 464 in 2009, and 354 in 2013.
Southampton Town saw a notable increase in 2010 to 1,239 larcenies. Many of those can be traced to Hampton Bays, which had 244 that year, followed by Bridgehampton, with 92, and Southampton Village and the surrounding area, with 87. East Hampton saw an increase as well, to 533 in 2010.
According to police officers, many larcenies are crimes of opportunity, meaning that criminals come across an unlocked car door or an iPhone sticking out of someone’s bag. Sometimes money and valuable items are stolen in group-rental homes as well. “We’ve had co-habitants complaining about one another and didn’t know each other,” Lt. Zarro said.
Others are thefts from stores—in Westhampton Beach Village, for instance. From 2009 to 2013, there was only a 3-percent increase in larcenies, from 69 to 71 cases, in Westhampton Beach, where the highest number of larcenies, 105, was, again, in 2010.
Westhampton Beach Police Lieutenant Trevor Gonce said most cases in 2010 were petit larcenies—thefts of a small amount of cash or of items not worth much money. He said for the most part Westhampton Beach’s crime levels have been steady, although there are more larcenies, than, say, in Quogue.
“We have supermarkets, a Rite-Aid, a 7-Eleven … little shops. Larcenies stem from places like that,” he said. “Occasionally, someone comes around and hits all the clothing stores on Main Street.”
Burglaries—breaking and entering, typically with the intent to steal—decreased 11 percent from 2009 to 2013, from 376 offenses to 336 across both towns. Once again, 2010 had the highest number, with 400 burglaries reported across the South Fork. Of those, 288 burglaries occurred in Southampton Town, and 112 occurred in East Hampton Town.
The highest number of those in Southampton took place in Hampton Bays, according to Lt. Zarro. There were 55 that year.
“With the summer crowd, there does grow a criminality,” he said about Hampton Bays. “But when the summer residents are gone during the winter, there are burglaries on summer houses. The bad guys know the houses are vacant.”
The case is the same in Southampton Village. According to Det. Sgt. Lamison, burglaries usually occur in the village’s estate section.
“Typically, you have people that have been hired to do different jobs—a lot of people working on landscaping, irrigation and construction. Most of these people are honest, but some double back and commit these crimes of opportunity when the houses are vacant,” he said.
He added that he ran the numbers of crimes back into the 1990s and saw that there were three times as many burglaries back then.
“It’s comforting to know we are decreasing in every category every year,” he said. “It’s something we’re happy about, but we’re still not going to stop working until we get down to nothing,” Det. Sgt. Lamison said.
Lt. Trevor Gonce of the Westhampton Beach Police Department said that burglaries have been stable in his precinct, but that in 2013, copper thefts were big. He said thieves resell copper after removing it from driveway lighting and piping.
Additionally, there was a “little burglary spree”—12 incidents north of Montauk Highway last year. He said the department is currently trying to tie four of those to one person through DNA matching, but that the person is incarcerated, so it has been “quite a process.”
None of the police departments said theft crimes seemed to be on the upswing.
“There is no specific indicator that we should be alarmed or there has been a large increase in the amount of the crime,” Capt. Anderson said.
Lt. Zarro of the Southampton Town Police Department said the reason why it might seem like crime is increasing is because news outlets are reporting them more. “The newspapers are keeping up with it and social media has advanced—it definitely makes a difference,” he said, adding that with the economy still vulnerable, people may be paying more attention to smaller things like the number of larcenies around town.
“We’re going to have what we’re going to have every year,” Lt. Gonce said. “Police presence deters a lot of it.”
Det. Sgt. Lamison echoed the sentiments.
“We’ve got officers on the road and detectives who know the people who are usually involved in things,” he said. “It’s developing intelligence and being proactive—but we’re still working toward getting it right.”