Keep an eye on your cell phone and electronic devices on the Metro system. Transit police report a major spike in snatch thefts and they are using new tactics.
It has been a stubborn problem. People can't seem to put their smartphones down, they are not paying attention and it is easy for a thief to grab it out of their hands.
"I wouldn't walk around the system or in public, no matter what the venue is, with $400 in cash in my hand, but that's essentially what you're doing with that same electronic device," said Metro Transit Police Chief Ronald Pavlik.
During a two-week period between July and August, Metro had 40 electronic devices stolen, up from 27 the two weeks prior. It is a 48 percent increase.
Surveillance video from the Capitol Heights station on July 31 shows two suspects swipe a man's cell phone from the middle of the train. Typically thieves target people near the door. One of the thieves is seen grabbing the phone, while the other runs out another door and blocks the man chasing after his phone, knocking him to the ground.
Metro Transit Police say about 85 percent of the victims are women.
A second video from a bus surveillance camera shows a woman sitting next to the door. The door opens and the suspects comes from the back, grabs the woman's phone and then runs out.
Tishwana McGowan knows thefts happen, but is not about to put up a fight.
"If they're going to run up and take it, you can have it,” she said. “I'm not going to fight for it. I can get it replaced.”
The highest concentration of thefts is in D.C. and Prince George's County.
A new trend Metro is seeing too is more devices snatched on the escalators. The suspect runs out of the station and disappears in the neighborhood.
"So when you're trying to canvas an entire neighborhood looking for an individual, it's much more challenging," Pavlik said.
Even though it is a no-no, Metro riders have chased and tackled thieves to the ground.
One man at Gallery Place-Chinatown had his daughter over his shoulder watching a video on his phone, but knows what he would do.
“If that happens to me, I try to prepare myself. First, I'd trip them, try to make them fall," said Rehan Yazid.
It seems no matter how many times Metro urges people to get their heads out of their cell phone, some Metro riders won't put their phones down even if they know the risks.
"Phones a valuable,” said Dean Grant. “There's plenty of thieves around and quick money.”
Transit police do not have an explanation for the spike, but say the best thing to do is put those electronic devices out of sight. If you must have the device out, hold on with two hands and constantly look around. You never know when someone might grab it.
- More than two thirds of snatch theft victims are women. Most suspects are male (95 percent), and 82 percent of the suspects are believed to young adults between the ages of 14 and 20.
- Nearly 60 percent of all snatches involve Apple iPhone devices.
- Snatch thefts can occur at any time – on a platform, outside the station, or even in the middle of a rail car. However, roughly 87 percent of all snatch thefts occur within the Metrorail system. Snatches on Metrobus account for about 13 percent of the total.
Tips to Prevent Theft Snatch
- Handle your device as if it were cash. The best advice is to keep your valuables out of sight.
- If you choose to use a device, always remain alert and aware of your surroundings and hold the device using both hands to make it harder to grab.
- Avoid using an electronic device near the train or bus doors. Many “snatch thefts” take place as the doors are closing. Also, do not use an electronic device on escalators.
- Change the color of your earphones. White or red wires can indicate that you're carrying expensive equipment.