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Smash and grab trend?

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Posted: Tuesday, October 31, 2006 10:00 pm

In the past four months, thieves have broken into Lodi businesses 43 times, almost always prying open the door or breaking a window, then grabbing cash before fleeing.

Sometimes a burglar alarm alerts police, but often the store is small enough that nobody sees the damage until employees arrive the next morning.

Five more businesses fell victim this weekend, and police have few clues to follow. Cash registers and money safes have gone missing. There have been no arrests.

At Velvet Grill on South Ham Lane, employees arrived at 6:38 a.m. Saturday to find a window broken. Inside, the office had been ransacked but the safe, which cannot be removed, was still there.

"They were obviously looking for money, but nothing has turned up missing," said Operations Manager Kirk Smith.

What amazed him was that, after throwing a rock through the window, the culprits apparently took the time to remove the remaining pieces of glass and put them in planters 20 to 30 feet away.

"The only thing I can think is that they didn't want people to drive by and see the shards of glass," Smith said. "If you drive by, it's easier to see a broken window than a missing window."

His restaurant was one of four burglarized Friday night, Lodi Police Crime Prevention Officer Andrea Patterson said.

At Sinaloa Cafe on North Sacramento Street, Mazatlan Cafe up the street and Village Coffee Shop on West Lodi Avenue, thieves pried open the doors and took money or the cash register.

Village Coffee only had about $75 in the register, but the culprits apparently just reached over the counter and took the whole machine, said waitress Ramona Hixson. In the process, they must have dropped the register because the new floor was dented and damaged.

The owner now plans to leave parking lot lights turned on and is also looking into an alarm system, Hixson said.

Tips for businesses

• Consider installing an alarm system.
• Make sure all security devices are working properly.
• Do not leave cash on hand.
• Maintain exterior lighting.
• Meet with neighboring businesses and keep an eye out for each other.
• Report any suspicious activity.
Source: Lodi Police Crime Prevention Officer Andrea Patterson.

Patterson said those methods will help, and she also recommended that business owners make sure no cash is left in the building and to report any suspicious activity.

Some businesses have surveillance videos, but so far it hasn't been enough for police to identify suspects, Patterson said. A gray Honda or Toyota could be involved, she said, but that description sometimes contrasted other reports.

Sometimes several suspects were involved, as happened in late September, when five people took a safe from Mar Y Tierra at Church Street and Kettleman Lane. That safe was later found in Galt, where police have also had similar commercial burglary reports.

Except for Radio Shack, which has been burglarized four times since late August, the thieves only stole cash, registers or computers. Other items, that would be considered valuable to the business but would have to be sold to get cash, remained unharmed.

Radio Shack has had various electronics stolen, and each time thieves simply smashed the window. Police are still investigating video footage from those burglaries, but in one case the camera was not turned on - another problem Patterson said police sometimes encounter.

In most cases, the amount of cash left in the store was not significant. Patterson said one burglary netted the suspects about $700 in cash, but that was an exception rather than an average.

Two weekends ago, thieves seemed to target salons, and this weekend they burglarized one, A Cut Above on South Fairmont Avenue, Patterson said.

In most of those incidents, the thieves got no money, she said, but the businesses were left with repair bills.

At Velvet Grill, the window was replaced Tuesday and cost about $200, Smith said. The payoff for the burglars: nothing.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

First published: Wednesday, November 1, 2006

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