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    Retailers Urged to Take Precautions

    Following a rash of break-ins at convenience stores, police warn clerks of dangers.

    Metal bars and iron grates -- once reserved for crime-ridden city neighborhoods -- may become more common at Baltimore County convenience stores as police struggle to curb a rash of smash-and-grab burglaries.

    Twenty-eight such crimes, in which burglars break a window, enter a store and run off with as much merchandise as they can grab, have been reported in the county since May 1, according to the Baltimore Sun.

    The report said smash-and-grab burglaries have been increasing nationwide since the early 1990s, starting in Miami, where thieves were interested in expensive merchandise. In most Baltimore County cases, burglars are after one of the hottest black market commodities on the street today: cigarettes, which are growing more and more costly.

    Police say burglar alarms are little deterrence because burglars are often gone by the time the alarm company alerts police. In one case, a burglar was in and out of a store in eight seconds. In other cases, savvy burglars stay in a store -- grabbing as much as they can -- for up to 90 seconds. It usually takes about a minute for a security company to alert police to an alarm, the report said.

    To combat the problem, police and security experts are urging businesses to install unbreakable glass or grates on their windows. They are also urging store owners to store cigarettes in a safe or locked room.

    But some convenience store owners are hesitant to follow that advice. "If you want to put bars on the door or a metal grate up, it would solve the problem," said Rick Gordon, who owns a Citgo convenience store in the Baltimore suburb of Garrison, Md. "But it would make you feel like you are working in a prison. But if it happens every week, I might consider it."

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