Let's stop cell phone snatchers

Metro and L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies are asking patrons to watch for the person in these photographs. On July 16 at approximately 11:10 p.m. this suspect was captured on video grabbing an Apple iPad from a Metro patron as she was riding the Blue Line. When the train arrived at the Compton Station, the suspect approached the victim from behind, grabbed her iPad from her hands and fled the train car and platform northbound on foot. Please call the LASD Transit Services Bureau (323) 563-5000 if you recognize this man. He is thought to be 17-19 years old with black hair and brown eyes, 5′ 6″ or 5′ 7″, 140-150 pounds.

Aboard Metro buses and trains, thieves are snatching smart phones and other electronic devices at a growing rate and Metro officials and Los Angeles County Sheriffs are taking steps to stop it. But they need the public’s help in putting an end to these crimes of opportunity. Raising awareness is the first step.

“It’s a national trend. And we need to educate the public about how they can avoid being victims of this kind of crime,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Commander Patrick Jordan.

In L.A., as well as in New York, Washington D.C., Boston and Chicago, thieves are stealing cell phones and other electronic devices out of the hands of inattentive transit riders. Metro experienced a 47 percent increase in phone thefts during the first half of this year, compared with the first half of last year.

In looking at the thefts by month, they began to increase steadily in March of this year, with a low of 15 in February and a high of 34 in July. There have been 168 phone theft reports taken since the first of the year. The result has been 84 arrests.

And yet, the Metro system is safe and overall crime on Metro is stable. For every 100 million boardings in the first half of 2011, Metro had 250 crimes — the same number as for the first half of this year.

Phone and electronic device snatching is a crime of convenience and surprise is a key weapon of phone thieves. So Metro and the Sheriffs Department, which provides security on the Metro system, want passengers to be vigilant to avoid becoming victims.

Pay particular attention getting on and off trains and buses. That’s when thieves can quickly grab a phone and dash either onto or off of a departing train or bus. Stash phones and iPods away when arriving at or departing a station. It’s also a good idea to keep other valuables out of sight.

Be aware of your surroundings. Sit or stand in an area that remains visible to the public and other transit riders and employees. Make a mental note of where the emergency notification buttons are located in the stations and on trains.

Trains appear to be the preferred venues for cell phone thefts, perhaps because trains can hold more passengers and buses are manned by bus drivers whose presence may deter some thieves.

Cell phone grabs can occur at all times of day but happen most often between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. and then spike again for about an hour after 9 p.m. Victims and perpetrators are both male and female.

Most of the attacks are not armed robberies but are grabs of surprise, with suspects taking  phones from unaware passengers who may be talking on them at that moment.

Should you become a victim or witness a crime, try to note the train car number (posted on the outside of trains near the car corners and posted inside on the doors leading to train cars in front and in back), the time, the station and the line. Call LASD Transit Services Bureau immediately. There are video cameras on all trains and buses and train platforms. Working with photos captured from surveillance cameras, Sheriff’s deputies can search for robbery suspects. “We catch many of the suspects responsible,” Cmd.Jordan said.

27 replies

  1. Ms. Lorenzo,

    I carry a second prepaid phone with me for emergencies, and if someone convinces me to let them use my cell phone, that’s the one I pull out and let them use. Nobody touches my expensive phone. If they run off with my prepaid Tracfone (I don’t have a credit card or other payment method linked to the account), all I’ve lost is a $10 disposable phone, and when I get home, I can go online and notify the company that the phone was stolen so they can block the thief from further use of the phone.


  2. I ride the train daily from Artesia to downtown LA and I have never had a problem nor seen one. Today was my first, I was the victim of an attempted chain snatching. I was sitting on the isle by the space between two cars (where the rif raf congregate) and the guy walked behind me, snatched my chain and continues walking and got off on the Compton stop. I must have moved fast because the broken chain was hanging on my shirt. I am usually more aware and look these folks in the face while on the train but it was about 11:00 am and I let my guard down. Keep you eye on the people just standing around or walking because they are in a position to run.


  3. Lisa H.,

    I have to disagree with your logic. Just because I’m around people that you don’t know doesn’t necessarily mean I have to keep stuff out of sight for the sake of criminals.

    I have no problem using my cell phone or iPad in a crowded mall. I have no problem using them while waiting in line at the movie theater. I have no problem using them at the beach, in Hollywood, in Downtown LA, etc. etc. So why should I have to be more conscious on Metro than these places?

    We should not be forced to keep things out of sight because of the actions of criminals. Instead, we need to look at reasons why criminals come into the Metro system in the first place. You don’t see cell phone or iPad snatchers at malls or at movie theaters, but we see them as a problem on the Metro. Why is that? Maybe there’s a logic to it that keeps criminals away from these places and there’s something that Metro is doing wrong to attract criminals into their system. And if that’s the case, what are other cities doing to solve these problems? Those are the questions we should be asking instead of resorting to simply saying “just keep your belongings out of sight and only use them at home” or “increase more security.”

    It’s simple: malls and movie theaters have an atmosphere of “it’s not risking capture” while Metro is a free to go free to get out system. If a criminal snatches my cell phone in the mall, the malls has mall security, mall staff, surveillance cameras, retailers and all the other customers as witnesses and aiding capture. Metro, what do they have? Surveillance cameras cannot magically start moving and zap a criminal with a tazer. You don’t have retailers at Metro stations being witnesses to say “oh it’s the guy in the green shirt who made his getaway on the car with license plate XXXXXX”


  4. I’m a bail bondsman with SantaClaritaBailBonds.net in Santa Clarita, I just bailed out a guy who was arrested for attempting to steal from a passenger on the train. Sheriff deputies were called, arrested the guy and took him to the Santa Clarita Sheriff Station. The inmates bail was 50k for strong arm robbery!


    • Hi All American Bail Bonds;

      Thank you. This is the best reader comment we’ve had in a long while! May you have the best of Carmageddons this weekend!

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source


  5. i just saw the snatching incident.. it wasreally a scary situation..

    i was a riding jeepney around 7:30 pm from school then i heard someone shouting from other jeepney when i turn my sight to the other jeepney i saw a girl and the snatcher pulling the cellphone unfortunately the snatcher got the phone. after that the snatcher just get out of the jeepney just walk while smiling away..

    it makes me sad because i cant do anything for that girl.. ang make me worry more cause i have in my bag my ipad ang phone…