One car in a Suffolk Avenue driveway in Flanders was, on at least one afternoon last week, not like the others.
After its passenger side window was shattered last Tuesday evening, the black Subaru wagon had a black mat, almost like a child’s rubber play mat, tied tightly to its top and right side with an orange ratchet strap, in an attempt to keep out the elements.
That car’s owner, Jennifer Gonzalez, can join several dozen other nearby residents in blaming vehicle damage on a serial vandal — or vandals — who has been breaking into cars in the community in recent months.
The string of incidents has left many in the hamlet “frightened” and “nervous,” said lifelong resident Susan Tocci.
In many cases, police said, items such as cash, purses, credit cards and driver’s licenses were also taken. But sometimes, as with the Subaru, nothing was stolen.
“Everything was in its exact place, which was odd,” Ms. Gonzalez said. “Basically, they took everything out of the glove compartment and just made a mess out of the car, but everything was still there. It’s just strange.”
The window of a second car owned by her family was smashed earlier this month. Nothing was removed from that vehicle either.
Sean McLean, who lives in the Woodroad Trail area, said his car was also targeted, although he didn’t report the incident to police.
“They stole about a dollar in change from my glove compartment,” he said.
These cars are among at least 62 vehicles in Flanders that have been broken into, according to Southampton Town police, who previously reported that the number of break-ins was closer to 42.
The occasional “No Trespassing” or “Beware of Dog” signs hanging from homeowners’ fences appear not to have dissuaded the suspect — or suspects.
Incidents have also occurred on Albany Avenue, Glider Avenue, Port Street, Flanders Road, Priscilla Avenue, Oak Avenue, Brookhaven Avenue, Evergreen Road, Ludlam Avenue, Maple Avenue and Point Road, police said.
Lt. Susan Ralph of the Southampton police department said the break-ins, which police believe are connected, have taken place over the last three months. In some cases, like that of Ms. Gonzalez, bricks or large stones were thrown through car windows. One car’s tires were punctured, according to a police report.
“Everyone around here is [on the lookout],” said Juan Ortiz of Glider Avenue.
“We’re telling people to remove all belongings out of the vehicle,” Lt. Ralph said. “Any loose change, iPads, iPhones, pocketbooks — do not leave those items in your vehicles.”
Police have even suggested that residents leave their cars unlocked so their windows don’t get smashed.
Southampton police Capt. Larry Schurek said it’s believed that just one or two people are responsible and said the department has increased patrols in the area. No injuries have been reported in relation to the incidents.
“We’ve put a lot of legwork into it because it’s distressing to the community,” he said.
Despite the increased police presence, Flanders residents say it’s partially up to them to stop the break-ins.
“I don’t believe police alone can solve the problem,” said Mr. McLean, who has lived in the hamlet since 2004. “I do believe they are doing what they can to help the situation, but enough is enough, and we have to take it upon ourselves to do something about it.”
To that end, Ms. Tocci has organized a neighborhood watch and is active on social media, informing neighbors about where and when cars were hit. She said five members of her family have had their vehicles vandalized. As of Tuesday, she said roughly 25 volunteers were taking turns patrolling local streets on foot and by car.
“Maybe if [the suspects] see more presence and people driving around all night long, it will help deter them,” she said.
Ironically, Mr. McLean works for Renaissance Downtowns, a for-profit company that’s partnered with Southampton Town to redevelop neighboring Riverside, a hamlet that’s among the most distressed in the county and experiences its own fair share of crime. He believes the problem is indicative of a “worsening socioeconomic aspect of the community. It’s an unfortunate thing that comes with an unchecked drug culture within a community.”
Mr. McLean isn’t the only local resident who works for Renaissance Downtowns.
Angela Huneault, who has lived on the same Flanders street for 47 years, works as a community outreach coordinator for the company. She said change has been stolen from her son’s truck twice, although he didn’t report either incident.
“You’re sleeping with one eye open,” said Ms. Huneault. “I’m grateful to my friends walking the midnight shift, but at the same time, I want them to be safe with their families — not outside walking around.”
Anyone with relevant information is asked to call Southampton Town police at 728-5000, the detective division at 702-2233, or the crime tips hotline at 728-3454. Tips can also be emailed to [email protected] All communications will be confidential, police said.
Editor’s note: A version of this story originally appeared in the Nov. 12 Riverhead News-Review. Police have since reported that more break-ins have occurred in recent weeks and months.