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. 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…

  2. 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

  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. LoJack makes a cell phone, laptop and ipad tracking device. Annual subscription fee but worth it.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. It’s good to post this surveillance video so we can catch these fools. However, for the last several years I’ve been concerned about clueless upper-management types, young folks dressed for success in their expensive suits, who ride the subway with laptops, iPads and other items perched on their lap. They’re never paying attention to their surroundings, and if I was a criminal trolling for an easy victim, they’d be the first ones I’d go after. I’m sorry, but unless you’re a bodybuilder visibly able to protect yourself, you really need to keep the laptops and other gadgets put away in backpacks and briefcases while you’re riding the subway or the trains in Los Angeles.

    I owned a cell phone 20 years ago (we had a disabled child and needed to be in constant contact as a family) and it was always put away, in my pocket with the ringer turned off, set to vibrate, especially when I was riding the Blue Line. Why? Because in those days, cell phones were expensive items very few people owned, and I always thought it was tacky to wave around flashy stuff that other people didn’t have. Whipping out some expensive toy in public identifies you as someone who probably has money in your wallet and makes you even more of a target for crime. There really needs to be some kind of a reality education program for commuters. Lesson one: Don’t flash the bling in front of people who have less than you do.

  8. Respondents offered productive suggestions about encouraging business in and around stations to discourage the presence of potential thieves. In Paris a few years ago locals told me that pickpocketing is common on the metro; laptops and phones are routinely snatched right out of should bags if open, and folks have learned to close purses and bags. After riding MTA buses and light rail for a year and a half while my engine was repaired, another reality surfaced. Drivers simply don’t evict disruptive and combative, primarily mentally ill, individuals from buses. I was assaulted by a schizophrenic woman and the driver refused to order her off the bus. She reappeared in a totally different area of L.A. County near the school where I teach and went after a very elderly man with a cane because he sat in the seat she had her eye on. She almost knocked him down. The driver did nothing. When I asked if he was going to call the police he said his shift was over and it was the replacement driver’s problem. He refused to call the police so I did. They’re supposed to stop the bus until the police arrive- he didn’t. Until MTA protects law-abiding riders by evicting potentially dangerous riders, folks aren’t going to want to use public transit. The thieves this post concerns know that even when witnesses are present noone’s going to do anything and they feel free to commit their dirty deeds.

  9. A significant number of Sheriff Volunteers have been “Rail Trained” my Metro. Why not have them ride the Metro in civilian clothes and watch for these people. They wouldn’t get involved in the interactions with the thefts, just provide good law enforcement witnesses who would be able to contact ROC when an event occurs. These people are free to the county, why make them wear uniforms to stand out in the public. Civilian attire and a Blue Dot LASD Radio works well.

  10. Many people do not feel safe at the Compton Station. With the new transit center, there should be more patrols and tougher consequences for those who break the law in the MLK Transit Center premises. I heard that their are even plans to open retail in the transit center and a parking lot. So maybe the station will become safer. I have not riding the train for almost two months, more security and development are needed near some stations. I hope that LASD and in conjunction with MTA, and the city of Compton makes the Compton Station more safer (having a security guard, adding more lighting, and checking the cameras more constantly). Not only will it take the MTA, LASD and the local municipalities to step up, but also the riders if we want a safer public transportation system.

  11. Use some sense when traveling in public. Use off brand headphones and hide your device in your clothes or use what I have which is a fannypack that is hidden under my shirt. I can still listen to music but you wouldn’t think Iphone with my cheap looking headphones.( I keep my good ones hidden if out in public) I can answer my phone, but I don’t have it in my hands for someone to just run up and grab. Stay safe!

  12. I used to live in Montreal and the issues of electric device theft are also on the rise and the cops who patrol the area is at random, not sure if it helps contribute to anti-thefts. The same precautions were issued to riders: don’t have your devices out at arrivals and departures or keep them out of sight and keep an eye on your surroundings. Or just keep using old devices, the older the model the less likely it will be stolen.

  13. I second the idea of creating businesses in the stations and having them helping out to keeping thieves away. That is much better than resorting to ideas that involve paying more taxes to fund more cops acting like the Gestapo.

    Can Metro look into this idea?

  14. Brian I. makes an excellent point.

    More police officers in the trains is not the only and cure-all solution. Putting officers costs taxpayers a lot of money and we need to get over this “anything for more security” mindset that’s dragging America down to becoming a police state.

    Instead, we need to finds ways for criminals stay away from the station and trains to begin with. And the best way to do that is to promote a more robust economic activity within the stations alongside other security measures like staffed stations, occasional police presence, security cameras and fare gates.

    Just look at how the rest of the world has better and safer stations without resorting to massive police deployment. It’s not that they are better than us, it’s because they built the stations with these factors in mind.

    Just look at how Union Station is bustling with activity all day. I feel much safer at Union Station at anytime of day than majority of our light rail stations.

    Promote business activity at the stations = more eyes = more witnesses = another barrier for criminals to seeks their illegal activities elsewhere = keeps them out of the system.

    It’s a win-win scenario: creates jobs, promotes economic growth, and safer stations…all without resorting to increased police patrol at taxpayers expense.

  15. Their no police boarding the trains at all during the night they should start riding the train at night with the public at random times. Also I always see the fair inspector on their phone an just talk among them self. They should put their cell phone away an make them check fair. They need to get more supervison an make them do what their job is.

  16. Well thanks for the heads up. We have thiefs everywhere and with Holidays and lack of jobs we can only expect worse. L.A Metro is starting to be like Central America bus lines.

  17. What we need is more deterrents to make criminals like these from entering and leaving the system too easily.

    The rest of the world does this by multiple layers of security:

    Officers in the station
    Station staff in the station
    Retailers and merchants at the station adding more “eyes” at witnesses
    Automated fare gates
    Security cameras

    All of these in conjunction act together to create a “it’s not worth to risk capture” psychology to criminals.

    Most countries around the world have this in place. LA Metro however, is pretty much a free to go free to get out system. A cell phone snatcher like this person can hop off at the next stop, and run off with no deterrents to aid his capture as he makes his getaway.

    But elsewhere in the world they do. When a crook tries to make a run for it, they have to go through station staff, police officers, security cameras, retailers and merchants right there who can be witnesses, automated fare gates that slam shut right in their face, etc.

    Which one do you think is an easy getaway for crooks to snatch-and-go?

    This (LA Metro station):

    Or this (Taipei Metro station):

  18. I was thinking about this the other day – I usually stand on the Red Line, near the door. How easy it would be for someone to step just inside the door, snatch my phone from my hands and dash back off into the station.

    Or on the rapid buses – they’re so crowded that a thief might not be able to hightail it off the bus, but then again, people are packed in there like sardines and everyone’s jostling around. Someone could take something out of the pocket of your backpack and you might never notice. I prefer to have a messenger bag instead for this particular reason.

  19. In the afternoon, the Sheriff’s are never around, except in mass force at the Willow Station hanging around at the end of the platform. We need more presence on the trains. This would also deter horrible loud music playing that seems to go on day after day. The quality of life on the Blue Line has greatly diminished over the years.

  20. “how about more police/security presence on the blue line during those hours?”

    Anything is possible if you’re willing to pay for it. How does $5.00 per ride sound to fund officers to be in trains everyday?

    Or are there any other solutions that other countries have figured out to make trains safer without resorting to such a measure? Hmm…

  21. The whole point of having a hotspot or a great device is to enjoy using them on the ride. This so unfair. This has to be controlled.

  22. Although I’m always cautious of my surroundings, there have been times where a person comes up to me w/a sob story about how they are stranded or lost their metro pass, then ask to borrow my phone to call a ride. I never thought about how easy those people could have run away w/my phone until my friend pointed it out. “Trust no one” is her motto 🙁

  23. how about more police/security presence on the blue line during those hours? I noticed that the cops never check for tickets on the blue line in the afternoon. maybe that would help with getting rid of the trouble makers a little bit.