In the five Januaries from 2010 through 2014, seven robberies were reported in Riverhead Town.
Fifteen days into January 2015, six robberies have been reported in Riverhead Town.
While the rash of robberies since the new year began is undeniable, why they are occurring, when the next might occur, or who exactly is carrying them out remains, for the most part, in question at the moment.
“I don’t see there being any kind of trend or something like that,” said Police Chief David Hegermiller on Thursday.
Police have arrested a Manorville man they say was responsible for two robberies (one of them technically an attempted robbery, after the store clerk fled after she was approached) at a Tanger Outlets store.
Beyond that, however, police are still searching for those responsible for some of the most robberies Riverhead has seen in a single January since seven in 2007.
According to numbers provided by the Riverhead Police Department, about 40 robberies were reported in town each year from 2000 through 2013. Data only through the month of September was available for 2014; nine robberies had been reported as of that time last year.
Robberies peaked in Riverhead from 2004 through 2006, when 63, 65, and 65 robberies, respectively, were reported each year.
The chief said the police force has some “good leads” on the latest string of robberies, though due to the ongoing status of the investigations, the amount of information that can be made public is limited.
Victims and surrounding businesses have had varied reaction, at least to the media, over news of the robberies.
An employee at Movado, the site of the Jan. 8 attempted robbery, said employees are “a little apprehensive … we’re just keeping our eyes and ears open.”
At another store near Sunglass Hut, which was robbed on Jan. 6, a manager told a reporter she wasn’t even aware of the robberies until she heard from police — not her work or the mall.
She said she’d expect more, considering that many stores have young women working.
“With everything that’s happened, you think they’d beef up security,” she said.
While she was told police were working the area undercover in the days following the robberies, she said a lack of visibility still made her feel unsafe.
Police work hand-in-hand with a private security firm that operates at Tanger Outlets. Tanger’s general manager, Janine Nebons, said the mall doesn’t disclose its own security protocols, though said she has “full confidence in the Riverhead Police Department.”
Nonetheless, she said in her 20 years as general manager at Tanger, “the type of criminal activity we saw last week is really unusual.”
Ray Pickersgill, president of downtown’s Business Improvement District, said in his experience, “every time the economy is bad, people get desperate. They start doing desperate things.” Winter time especially, he said, can be a hard time for business — and for some on the lower end of the economic scale as a result.
The year’s first robbery was reported on the night of Monday, Jan. 5. A clerk at the Wading River Valero gas station told police an armed man entered the Route 25A store around 12:45 a.m., took cash and cigarettes from the clerk, and fled the store.
Two robberies were reported at Tanger over the next three days; 25-year-old Nicholas Rutigliano was arrested by Saturday in relation to both of them, one of which occurred at almost the exact same time as Jamesport’s Capital One Bank was robbed.
And on Tuesday night, two more armed robberies occurred in town, at Demaris Multi Service on East Main Street, and MCN Distributors in Main Road in Riverhead.
An employee at MCN told a reporter Thursday that he was held at gunpoint for hours while suspects made several trips with his company truck, transporting stolen goods they forced him to load with a forklift.
“They were like professionals,” he said.
Supervisor Sean Walter called the string of arrests “crazy.” Mr. Walter said expanding the police force is not an option on the table, pointing to the arrest of Mr. Rutigliano as one example of the force working to get the job done.
“It’s hard to know what’s going on,” he said. “They are doing everything they possibly can. In my sixth year in office, this is my strangest January ever.”
Both he — technically the town’s police commissioner — and Chief Hegermiller said that despite the rash of robberies, it’s hard to prevent such instances from occurring. Unless, of course, residents and business owners want police presence in every business.
“How do we prevent robberies unless we’re in every store?” Chief Hegermiller asked. “That’s something that’s very hard to do. It happens very infrequently.”
Captions: Nicholas Rutigliano mugshot. (Credit: Riverhead Town Police Department); Police on the scene of the Jamesport Capital One robbery (Credit: Cyndi Murray); Police say a hooded man robbed Capital One Bank in Jamesport on Jan. 6. (Credit: Riverhead Town Police Department).