As a wave of break-ins at businesses in southern Beaufort County continues, the security system at the new Bluffton Self Help building now seems a minimal cost compared to what would be lost if it was burglarized, board president Peter Bromley said.
The nonprofit organization had surveillance cameras installed this week, along with motion detectors and an alarm system at its building at Sheridan Park.
"Obviously we're very concerned," Bromley said. "A lot of people in the business community have been talking to each other and giving each other the heads-up."
More than 30 break-ins at businesses, nonprofit agencies and restaurants have occurred since early October, and investigators at the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office and the Bluffton Police Department believe they might be related.
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Most of the buildings that have been broken in to did not have surveillance cameras, leaving law enforcement officers with little evidence.
To prevent the break-ins, Bluffton police officers offered to business owners tips for protecting their property, Sgt. Joe Babkiewicz said.
Business owners also have been educating their employees and neighbors.
Bromley said volunteers have removed stones from the parking lot that could be used to break glass doors or windows. He checks on the building after operating hours, especially after the nearby Palmetto Service Center of the American Red Cross was broken into.
Someone attempted to kick in the glass door at Gruby's NY Deli in Okatie Village early Tuesday, but it didn't shatter because it had been coated with treatment that makes it difficult to break, the restaurant's manager, Scott Gruber, said. Gruber recommended other business owners apply it.
Since the break-in attempt, the business has repositioned security cameras to face the parking lot, he said.
"And don't leave any money in the drawer overnight," Gruber said. "Leave the register open, so (burglars) can see it's empty and might not even bother."
At health food store Circle of Health on Pennington Drive in Bluffton, vegan chef Robin Hooker said police officers taught her to watch for suspicious customers attempting to canvas the store.
"This time of year, it's good to have that knowledge," Hooker said.
Neighboring Walnuts Cafe recently had its window shattered and the cash register snatched.
Circle of Health keeps its lights on at night to deter would-be burglars, Hooker said.
Babkiewicz said business owners also should remove objects in the windows after closing, so patrolling officers can have a clear view inside.
Police and sheriff investigators are working together but so far have few leads, he said.
Follow reporter Allison Stice at twitter.com/BlufftonBlogIP.