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Caesar Moreno was walking home from his busboy job in Freeport, a new pair of $150 Air Jordans on his feet, when three robbers jumped out of a nearby car.

“Give me the Jordans,” one of the men said, according to a police report of the August 2014 incident. Moreno handed over the iconic red and black sneakers; his prized possession, gone in an instant.

“People want the nicest shoes, the newest shoes, even if that means robbing you for them,” said Moreno, 19, of Freeport, a self described “sneakerhead” who continues to collect high priced Nike models despite the robbery. “If they can’t afford them, they’ll grab them. That’s kind of the dark side of sneaker culture.”

At least 356 pairs of high end athletic shoes like those worn by Moreno have been reported stolen over the past three years in Nassau, Suffolk and New York City, records show a 67 percent increase from the previous three year period, when at least 213 pairs of high end sneakers were reported stolen across the region.

A little less than half of the 356 pairs of shoes were reported stolen on Long Island, according to records, with the rest reported in New York City.

To calculate the number of stolen high end sneakers across the region, Newsday reviewed hundreds of court records and police reports mentioning stolen sneakers valued at $100 or more.

High end sneakers have long held cultural cache among teens and 20 somethings in large cities and suburbs, with the newest, most expensive models often worn by star athletes among the most popular.

“These high end sneakers, such as Adidas and Nike, are in great demand and are attractive to the younger generation, due to their being a status symbol,” said Det. Lt. Richard LeBrun of the Nassau County Police Department. “It also becomes your basic theory of supply and demand.”

One reason for the apparent recent surge in athletic shoe thefts: New, limited edition models from companies such as Nike are hitting store shelves every week, experts say, causing demand to increase and, because of their rarity, increasing sneakers’ values exponentially when purchasers attempt to resell them.

Nike has released dozens of Air Jordan models, along with other athlete endorsed sneakers. Companies such as Adidas and Under Armour have followed with their own high end models.

The priciest sneakers generally sell from $100 to $300 in stores but can skyrocket in value their prices sometimes quadrupling on the streets, sneaker collectors and salespeople said.

Lines at shoe stores on Long Island and in New York City sometimes grow into the hundreds when limited edition models go on sale. Demand is so high that for some sneaker releases Nike has developed an online raffle system in which a consumer would sign up online and, if selected, the company would send that buyer instructions on where to purchase the shoes.

“It’s insane, the passion and pride that goes into this hobby,” said Connor Realmuto,
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a sneaker collector and salesman at Sneaker Aquarium in Riverhead, one of Long Island’s largest sneaker shops. and wait five hours for a shoe. There’s such a craze for the shoes . . . it’s definitely getting bigger” as a hobby.

Like dozens of other shoe stores across the region, Sneaker Aquarium has been the victim of theft. A man purchased more than $1,000 in sneakers with a stolen credit card there in May 2014, records show.

Jamie Brewer, an online sneaker seller from Manhattan who ships several dozen $100 pairs a year to Long Island, said he’s hearing from customers about more shoe thefts than at any time since the mid 1980s, when Air Jordans first went on sale.

“It’s bad . . . because there are so many hot shoes right now,” Brewer said. “People are always going to be looking to steal them, so long as they maintain their value in the market and in the culture. But right now . . . it’s happening more.”

Another private sneaker seller and collector, Anthony Dalio of Brooklyn, said he’s had more than a dozen pairs stolen in the 20 years he’s been collecting.

“People broke into my apartment, my car, wherever the shoes were at,” Dalio said. “They have a lot of cultural value it’s not just about the dollars.”

The thefts of high end items, including sneakers, have spurred several municipalities to create public “safe spaces,” locations where buyers and sellers can complete private transactions. Suffolk police are studying the feasibility of creating such locations on county property, officials said.

“They take them right off their feet, but no one’s going to steal your sneakers if you’re in a police precinct parking lot,” said Legis. Tom Muratore (R Ronkonkoma), a former Suffolk County police officer who has introduced legislation proposing safe spots.

Sneaker sales reached a record high $34 billion in the United States last fiscal year, with Nike and its subsidiary Jordan Brand accounting for more than 90 percent of all basketball shoe sales.

Sneaker related crimes have been the subject of controversy since at least 1982, when Nike released its white Air Force 1s sneakers named for the presidential airplane and beloved by some consumers for their futuristic design.

The shoes developed a devoted following in big cities. They also became associated with inner city violence, and were “touted as the sneaker of choice for drug dealers, whose ability to wear unscuffed sneakers signified both wealth and status,” Elizabeth Semmelhack, curator of an exhibit on sneaker culture at the Brooklyn Museum, writes in her book, “Out of the Box: The Rise of Sneaker Culture.”

No organization keeps nationwide statistics on sneaker related crimes, but news stories describing sneaker robberies have appeared in nearly every state in recent years, suggesting the problem persists.

On Oct. 19, a Hempstead Village police officer was injured during a high speed pursuit of a car whose occupants were believed to have stolen two pairs of Air Jordan sneakers, following a planned meeting with the shoes’ seller, officials said.

The victim had agreed to meet the suspects at a gas station in order to complete the sale. The suspects one of whom was later arrested stole the shoes instead, police said.

Moreno, the Freeport resident whose Air Jordans were stolen last year,
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said the prospect of being victimized again doesn’t worry him.