State police investigators are looking for one or two burglary rings in the wake of numerous break-ins at homes and businesses in Niagara County over the past six to eight weeks.
Sheriff's investigators also have been busy with a bumper crop of break-ins far exceeding the number of burglaries they worked on last year.
State Police Senior Investigator Thomas Gregson said he is investigating about 20 break-ins over the past two months that appear to have been committed by one or possibly two groups.
While he can't explain exactly why burglary has become the apparent crime of choice here, Gregson admits, "We've had a lot of businesses knocked off" in the towns of Lockport, Cambria, Newfane and Wilson in recent months. He also said a lot of homes have been hit in Lewiston, Wheatfield and the Town of Niagara.
"They may not have all been done by the same people, but I'm certain a majority of them have . . . because there are many similarities," Gregson said. "Most of them have occurred at night. In most cases, a pry bar or a large screwdriver has been used to open a door or a window."
Gregson added that many of the businesses that have been hit are similar:
Money was taken during a burglary Sept. 7 at Faery's Nursery at 3170 Ridge Road, Cambria, while a .22-caliber pistol and $400 cash were stolen Oct. 4 from Mark's Nursery, 4402 Lake Road, Wilson.
Beyer's Ice Cream Drive-in, 4408 Ridge Road, Town of Lockport, was hit twice in the first week of October, and the Ridgeview Dairy Bar on Ridge Road, Town of Lockport.
Niagara County Chief Investigator Ronald Meyer said he and his investigators aren't faring any better.
"Our burglaries for the last quarter (July through September) came to 157," he said. "It's an unusually high number. We are not used to those kind of numbers. In 1996, we had 362 for the whole year."
He said his investigators have had to tackle a total of 327 burglary cases so far this year, "and that doesn't include October."
Meyer said his investigators and the state police cooperate and share information in probing the break-ins.
He said his investigators "are making many arrests, but we get these spurts of crime."
"There have been so many of them (burglaries), it doesn't seem we've made a dent in it," he added. "But you can only do so much with the limited amount of manpower you have."
He said his investigators have cracked a number of burglaries this year that were caused by two groups of youths. Arrests have been made, but it seems there are a number of groups of burglars working out there, he said.
Meyer said he agrees with Gregson that there is a group of burglars out there who "are doing their homework and are smart at how they go about it."
He said they may be hitting areas outside Niagara County as well.
Gregson said he has no suspects.
"They are good at it (committing burglaries), but I think they've been lucky so far," he said. "They have to live next door to somebody."
Gregson said he is asking anyone with information to call him at State Police Zone Headquarters at 434-5589.
The sheriff's criminal investigation can be reached at 438-3320.