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String Of Brazen Burglaries Leaves Howard Beach, Queens On Edge

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A crime spree has left residents of Howard Beach, Queens worried – and homeowners and police have been taking extra precautions.

As CBS 2's Carolyn Gusoff reported Friday, Howard Beach residents said they feel they are under siege, with at least 10 break-ins in recent weeks. Five homes were targeted in as many days.

"They're terrified. They're locking their doors. They're making sure that the alarm is on while they're in their homes. They're making sure that people watch them when they get into their cars," said Joann Ariola, president of the Howard Beach-Lindenwood Civic Association. "This is not how we live here in this community."

The community has just been rebounding from Superstorm Sandy, and police said 10 homes have been broken into in the last several weeks. Two of them were occupied at the time.

Frank Coraci said he was thankful he was not home when a thief broke in his ground-floor window Wednesday morning and ransacked his home. But they got away with precious keepsakes.

Coraci said the burglars took "the money, all the jewelry, all the memories of my father.

"It's terrible, because it's a great neighborhood," said his daughter, Mary Ann Mendola. "It's working people, and this is what they have. My father's a senior citizen and this is what you do?"

The brazen burglars strike during the day – usually in the mid-morning. A string of incidents this week happened at 9 or 10 a.m.

The burglars enter through side doors, windows, and in one case a front door.

Sabrina Vitucci said she caught a glimpse of a hooded thief on her surveillance video, after he broke in to her next door neighbor's house. Her block was hit twice.

"Since the Sandy storm, we're like the red-headed stepchildren. You know what that is? Nobody comes. There's no cops – you don't see them," Vitucci said. "Now they're everywhere."

After a packed community meeting Tuesday, police have been increasing their presence. A police command post has been set up on 160th Avenue, and officers have stepped up patrols in marked and unmarked cars.

Police are also are urging the community to report any suspicious activity.

"This is a very strong community; a close-knit community, and anyone who thinks they can come here, and break the law, and try to hold this community hostage better think again," said City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-32nd.)

Police have been reviewing neighborhood surveillance video, but so far no description of the perpetrators. They have been getting away with small items such as jewelry and designer handbags, and electronics.

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