A repeat burglar — or a team of crooks — has tormented DeKalb Avenue restaurants, seemingly striking at will and with precision over the last two months.
The epicenter of the break-in spree is the bustling strip between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues, though nearby shops of all types have been hit, too.
As word has spread down the block with every burglary, the close-knit group of merchants is growing restless about the NYPD’s response to the thief or thieves’ apparent impunity.
“I’ve been fed up with the cops for not going around when the sun goes down,” said Denis Dupreez, manager of Madiba, the South African restaurant at Carlton Avenue.
Someone broke in last month and stole $80 and all the Bacardi rum, but what was most disturbing was the crook’s inside intimate knowledge of the restaurant — a recurrent theme of the burglaries, victims and police say.
“This person knew exactly where to go, he knew where to get the keys, he knew were we kept $80 for the next day, he knew where the dining room lights were, and he knew where the linen bag was to take away the liquor,” DuPreez told The Brooklyn Paper.
A former worker at the restaurant said he suspected a regular customer — because the man always came in and ordered Bacardi drinks. Dupreez said cops did obtain a saliva sample from a glass of cranberry juice left behind by the obviously thirsty thief.
Two blocks east, near the corner of Clermont Avenue, the presumed culprit ransacked Amin, an Indian joint, on July 2. This time, the crook took goodies with an obvious value, as well as some trivial artifacts.
“The cash register was broken. Everything was messed up. They took $200, wine, two calculators, a lighter and a flashlight,” said Rubel Ibrahim.
The concentration of crime on this mini Restaurant Row is part of an overall increase in burglaries in the 88th Precinct, which covers Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. Though overall crime is down compared to last year, there have been 79 reported burglaries so far in 2008 versus 77 last year — and robberies have soared more than 21 percent.
The vulnerability of restaurateurs has left them in a state of constant dread.
“We are always worried about this happening,” said Ibrahim.
The plundering is considered by police to be a pattern of seven commercial burglaries going back to May committed by a single criminal mastermind — probably a neighborhood resident who has been hired for odd jobs at neighborhood businesses, police say. Three other restaurants on DeKalb Avenue, one on Vanderbilt Avenue near Myrtle and a Willoughby Avenue business round out the crime wave.
The crimes have frustrated the cops, too.
“It’s probably the biggest thorn in my side,” said Capt. Anthony Tasso, the recently appointed commanding officer of the 88th Precinct.
Tasso met last Thursday with several worried business owners and Councilwoman Letitia James (D–Fort Greene) in Madiba to discuss the police response, which Tasso said includes increased night patrols on foot, in cars and even in police helicopters for a proper vantage point of roofs and backyards on DeKalb Avenue.
No arrests have been made, though police say they have questioned a suspect.
“We’ve certainly talked to him. But this is not TV. You have to have something to bring him in on,” Tasso told The Brooklyn Paper. “It’s a matter of catching him do it.”