Thieves have targeted restaurants in a recent rash of shoreline burglaries that have local police beefing up late-night patrols.
The thefts, many in the Mystic area, had occurred sporadically over the past several weeks until Monday, when police discovered at least four restaurants had been burglarized in one night.
"It seems like these guys know what they're doing. They seem professional and organized," said Harry Longinidis, owner of Angie's Pizza and Pier 27 Lounge in Stonington.
Angie's was hit last Thursday morning when thieves broke in and not only swiped cash from a register and safe but pried open an ATM machine, a jukebox and a video game and yanked out the entire camera system before they left, Longinidis said.
"They basically ransacked the place. They took everything down to the pennies," he said. "They went after anything where they knew there would be cash."
Angie's wouldn't be the last.
Stonington police say thieves either burglarized or attempted to burglarize S&P Oyster Co., Thai One On, Mystic Boathouse restaurant, Steak Loft and The Pita Spot.
Groton Town police are investigating burglaries at the Voodoo Grill, Ryan's Pub and The Spot.
Justin Primeaux, owner of Mañana Café in Groton, said he had taken precautions at his restaurant by removing valuables and ensuring the security system is active. He believes better communication from police earlier might have led some owners to be more wary before the latest spate of burglaries.
"We're a tight-knit community … if anything, we could help police out," he said.
The latest thefts might well be connected to an Oct. 22 burglary at the Lyme Tavern in East Lyme, according to East Lyme Resident Trooper Sgt. Wilfred Blanchette. At the time, Blanchette said the man captured in a surveillance photo distributed to the public was already a suspect in other burglaries and resembles a man who attempted to burglarize the Bidwell Tavern in Coventry last week.
New London police Deputy Chief Peter Reichard said the Lyme Tavern burglary has similarities to the Oct. 18 theft at a Bank Street ice cream shop where masked thieves made off with a safe that had been bolted to the floor.
Stonington police Lt. Todd Olson said his department has sent officers to every restaurant in the area to let them know what is going on and to warn them to take precautions. They have also added extra patrols to late-night shifts.
"They're taking money if they can find it and valuables in general," Olson said of the thieves. "They removed a safe from one location."
Both Olson and Groton Town police Capt. Steven Sinagra are urging restaurant owners not to leave money overnight inside the business and to call police if they see anything suspicious. Olson said it might even be a good idea to leave empty safes and cash registers ajar to minimize damage if someone does break in.
Sinagra said because of what appears to be an obvious link, Groton investigators plan to share information about ongoing cases with other police departments at a meeting this morning at FBI headquarters in New London.
Anyone with information is asked to contact their local police department.