Restaurant Burglaries Are on the Rise Despite an Overall Drop in Crime

As if the COVID-19 crisis wasn't bad enough for these businesses.

If you think you've seen the words "restaurant" and "burglary" in the same headlines a lot more often, it's not your socially distanced brain playing tricks on you. An increasing number of break-ins have been reported because some of the world's worst people are taking advantage of restaurants that have shortened their hours, cut their number of workers, or have closed entirely.

Earlier this month, a San Jose restaurant that had been open for takeout decided to close entirely after thieves broke the door, stole liquor and electronics, and caused thousands of dollars' worth of damage. "With everything going on, it’s a kick in the gut when you’re already down," owner Kam Razavi said at the time.

broken window
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More than a half-dozen restaurants and bars in the Capitol Hill area of Washington, D.C. have also reported recent break-ins or attempted break-ins. At Spanish restaurant Mola, a burglar took $1,200 worth of high-end vodka, gin, vermouth, and wine. “They have really good taste,” co-owner Erin Lingle told Washingtonian. "From what was stolen, it seemed like somebody who was in the space before." (The semi-cultured criminal also helped themselves to all of the restaurant's toilet paper.)

And in New Haven, Connecticut, a 42-year-old man broke into the Soul De Cuba Café through a side window, and then spent the next four days eating the restaurant's food and downing its liquor and beer. By the time a manager discovered him—asleep with a bottle of rum—he had already either opened, consumed, or stolen at least 70 bottles of booze. The restaurant's total loss of food and alcoholic beverages was estimated to be several thousand dollars.

According to USA Today, the near-nationwide shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders have resulted in a decrease in the number of calls to the police, in "crime incidents," and arrests. But break-ins at restaurants and other temporarily shuttered small businesses are on the rise: in New York City alone, there were 140 restaurant burglaries between March 12 and this week, which is more than three times the number of break-ins that were reported during the same period last year.

"They’re targeting the small merchants, they’re targeting eateries,” Michael LiPetri, the New York City Police Department's chief of crime strategies, told the New York Times. “It’s outrageous.”

As stay-at-home restrictions are eased and restaurants begin the slow process of re-opening, even for outdoor dining, perhaps would-be burglars won't feel as confident about breaking in. Until then, restaurant consultant Dennis Gemberling suggests that restaurant owners should do whatever they can to make their spaces look occupied or just unappealing to smash-and-grabbers. He recommends leaving the lights on at all times, boarding up the windows and covering any display cases, and checking in at least once a day, even if the restaurant is closed.

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