Thieves on Metro target iPhones

|
Photo - Apple iPhone
Apple iPhone
Local,Science and Technology,Transportation,Crime,Liz Essley,Metro,Metro and Traffic

Apple iPhones are Metro thieves' favorite target: The devices accounted for 67 percent of the items snatched and pickpocketed on the transit system in the first three months of the year.

Nearly 100 Apple iPhones were stolen on Metro trains and buses from January to March out of a total of 144 devices, even as the transit agency battles a surge in more dangerous armed and violent robberies, Metro noted in a new crime report.

As cellphones get smarter and pricier, they're becoming an alluring target for thieves -- a record 1,829 cellphones were stolen in D.C. last year, police said, amounting to about 40 percent of all robberies.

New York City is facing a similar problem, with nearly 4,000 more Apple products stolen in 2012 than in 2011, the New York Times reported. In San Francisco, half of all robberies were cellphone-related last year.

D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has become a vocal advocate of a national database to track stolen cellphones and has encouraged theft victims to call their wireless carriers and request their phone be "bricked" -- or disconnected from the network.

Crime on Metro
Serious "Part I" Crimes on the Metro system in the first quarter:
Crime 2012 2013
Aggravated assault 32 27
Arson 1 2
Burglary 0 0
Homicide 0 0
Larceny 117 98
Motor vehicle theft/Attempts 20 9
Rape 0 0
Robbery (Armed, Fear, Force, Violence) 89 121
Robbery/Theft (Snatch, Pickpocket) 239 144
Total 498 401

"We have worked with the [Federal Communications Commission] to have the cellphone industry reform their policies to stop allowing the reactivation of stolen phones. I am optimistic," Lanier said Monday.

But overall for Metro, pickpockets fell in the first quarter of 2012 compared with the same period last year, when 239 items were snatched.

Metro saw a more troubling trend in robberies accompanied by fear, force, violence or weapons: The system had 121 such robberies in the first three months of 2013 -- the highest in five years for the first quarter and an increase of 36 percent over the same period in 2012.

"[The increase in robberies] is consistent with the trend in the region.It could be partially attributable to the influx in new electronic devices following the holiday season," Metro spokeswoman Morgan Dye said in an email.

In both snatches and more dangerous armed or violent robberies, 29 percent of objects stolen were iPhones, 14 percent were other cellphones, and 57 percent were other valuables, Metro's report said. An agency spokeswoman said the only specific product Metro tracks is the iPhone.

Officials said they are looking for ways to combat the robberies.

"The [Metro Transit Police Department] has made the reduction of robberies, both on rail and bus, a top priority," officials wrote in a report for the Metro board.

Metro said its officers were also targeting crime hotspots with police "surges" to make enforcement more visible, as well as going to community meetings to talk about crime prevention.

Crime on buses rose in the first quarter of 2013, driven by the rise in robberies. Eighteen robberies occurred on Metrobuses from January to March 2013, compared with seven in the same period last year.

Metro officials emphasized that crimes were still rare on Metrobus.

"Bus crime remains extremely low -- less than two crimes per million riders," Dye said.

Crime rose last year on Metrobus as well, with nearly 12 serious crimes per month, compared with seven per month in 2011. Those crimes included three homicides that occurred on Metro's bus system. No homicides were recorded on the system in the first three months of this year.

lessley@washingtonexaminer.com

View article comments Leave a comment