The elegant expensive homes of Chevy Chase attract some of the Washington area's most savvy burglars. There was the "silver gang," which specialized in fancy silverware. Then the ubiquitous Thomas O'Leary with his expensive taste for china figurines, fine jewelry and furs.

The silver gang has been keeping a low profile lately, Montgomery County police says. And Thomas O'Leary went to jail on Wednesday, sentenced to 40 years. There is, however, a new generation of burglars on the loose, according to police, with a penchant for eating food in the houses they steal from, particularly bananas.

Police have dubbed them "the banana bandits."

While collecting the jewels, silverware, TV sets and cash, the thieves seem also to find time to fix a snack. In many cases, they have left a banana peel as a sort of calling card.

Chevy Chase is in the throes of another burglary wave, police said, with 52 house burglaries since the first of the year - a 20 percent increase over last year's rate.

In about 15 cases, the burglars plopped a banana peel on the living room or kitchen floor before taking leave.

On Sunday, police arrested two men in their 20s who were allegedly fleeing from a house burglary on Grafton Street. Police said the men, who were wearing dress suits, were found with stereo equipment in the back of their car and several traveler's checks in the name of the woman whose house they allegedly burglarized.

Police later searched the house and said they found . . . a banana peel on the living room floor.

Police say they believe the two men, who have refused to give police their correct names and ages, may be responsible for other burglaries in the area. But so far the only evidence they have to connect these men to other crimes is, of course, the banana peel.

"We don't feel the apprehension of these guys is going to solve all of the other burglaries," said Officer Randall Crittenden.

Crittenden says bananas are not all the Chevy Chase burglars have been eating lately. In some cases, all they have left behind is a mess.

In one case, a burglar apparently fixed a peanut butter sandwich, then left the jar out, uncovered on the kitchen table and threw the bread crusts on the living room sofa.

Police say the burglaries fall into two categories. There are those where the thieves take mainly televisions and stereo equipment and watches -- items that can be sold quickly on the street.

But other times burglars are strictly interested in jewelry and silverware - which they pass on to fences, according to Lt. John Baker of the Bethesday Police station.

Police have decided that the only way to end the recent wave of burglaries in Chevy Chase is to "blitz" the community with crime prevention measures.

They will holds a series of neigborhood meetings to discuss these measures. They have sent letters to residents urging them to call police if they see anyone acting suspiciously in their neighborhood.

Police are looking for citizen aid because stakeouts in the area have generally failed. The houses are spaced apart, with wide lawns and backyards and bushes and trees around them. Surveillance of any wide area is difficult, Crittenden said.

Police believe many of the burglars, who strike generally between sundowns and midnight, enter houses through back doors or windows, then escape through shrub-shrouded backyards.

The areas most affected are Chevy Chase Village, North Chevy Chase, Rollingwood, Farmington and Martin's Additions. The Westmoreland Hills area, just west of Chevy Chase is also a target area, Crittenden said.