One night in June 2002, burglars cut the telephone lines leading from the Naples Professional Pharmacy, disabling the alarm. They then forced open a door and a locked cabinet and stole 5,000 doses of prescription narcotics worth $25,000.
The same pharmacy was hit again last week. But this time, new layers of security that are becoming popular with pharmacies, banks and convenience stores led to a much different outcome.
When burglars cut the telephone lines at 12:30 a.m., a state-of-the-art security system equipped with a cellular telephone automatically alerted the alarm company, which called police. The thieves tried to smash a window to enter the pharmacy but were rebuffed by wire reinforcement, and a new security door stood up to their efforts to pry it open.
Cumberland County sheriff's deputies, responding to the alarm, spotted a black van speeding away from the area on U.S. Route 302, caught up with it and eventually charged the two New Hampshire men inside with the burglary.
A growing problem with drug addiction in southern Maine and the desperate need for drugs and money to buy them has turned banks, convenience stores and pharmacies themselves into frequent targets of theft, police say. The businesses are responding by beefing up security with the latest in technology, as well as additional training for staff.
"We were broken into the first time and they got in because the wires were cut and everything went down," said David Diller, who opened the Naples pharmacy five years ago and now works with a Hannaford pharmacy in Bridgton. "After that, there have been wireless things put in with battery backups. There is no way in hell they can get around it."
Besides new alarm systems and reinforced doors and windows, improved video surveillance has led to better security photographs and, in turn, helped police identify more suspects.
Some pharmacies, like banks, now have silent panic alarms that can summon police quickly if there's a robbery. Others have installed pressure sensors on the floor that trigger an alarm.
Thefts of painkillers and other medicines led investigators and the pharmaceutical industry to create an Internet Web site for sharing information about crimes and arrest data. Rx Patrol is designed to collect, analyze and disseminate information about pharmacy thefts.
Some pharmacies no longer keep powerful painkillers such as OxyContin at their stores, which has cut back on the number of break-ins and robberies, said Anthony Pettigrew, a spokesman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which regulates pharmacies' distribution of narcotics.
Improved security protects more than just the targeted business, according to police. Burglars and robbers - once successful - rarely stop until they're caught, they said.
Technology and training that foil criminals or lead to their capture will deter crime in the community in general, said Portland police Lt. Vernon Malloch. "That sends a message to people you can't get away with this," Malloch said.
In the year ending July 2005, Maine experienced 17 armed robberies at pharmacies and six nighttime pharmacy burglaries, said Pettigrew.
Statistics compiled by the state Department of Public Safety show that the overall number of armed robberies in Maine jumped from 288 in 2004 to 318 last year. Since November, there have been at least 18 bank robberies and a similar number of robberies targeting convenience stores or pharmacies.
Businesses are hoping training and surveillance cameras also help reverse the trend.
Cumberland County Sheriff's Deputy Joe Schnupp recently told more than 100 pharmacy workers at the industry's annual state convention in Portland to cooperate with robbers and try to absorb all the details they can to help investigators put together a case.
"Years ago we did this training for banks," Schnupp said. "We updated it and included new laws and training and brought it forward for pharmacies."
New state regulations require all Maine pharmacies to install digital surveillance cameras by 2010, but some pharmacies are moving ahead now. And Diller is happy to advertise the new defenses.
"Let those jerks out there know they can't get away with it," he said.
Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: