Monday, March 8, 2010

Does Metro have an App for this?

From Susan:

I wanted to tell you about my experience the other weekend on Metro for two reasons.

First, to help others use this as a wake-up call to be more aware of what's going on and who is around them. I wish I had been.

I also want WMATA to admit there is a pattern of iPhone snatches so they can stop it.

There is a ring of criminals who are targeting iPhones. They aren't taking purses or other items.

I boarded the Orange Line toward Vienna at Metro Center. I was seated near the door by myself, and there were many passengers scattered throughout the train.

The chime indicated the doors were closing at Farragut West, and in the blink of an eye, an African American male with dreadlocks, a cap and hoodie came from my left and grabbed my iPhone.

I was texting or reading an email.

We struggled, but he ended up outside the train as it pulled away. He ended up with just my iPhone, but he nearly ripped off my arm to go with it.

I realized immediately it was well planned, and he must have been watching me for some time.

The other passengers were as shocked as I was, and we hit the emergency call button.

Transit police and a station master met me at Foggy Bottom. They were compassionate and attentive in their response.

I had the GPS tracker enabled on my phone, so I know it traveled to New York Ave. within an hour of the snatch. It appeared to be there a while, although I suspect the SIM chip had been removed.

I know Metro doesn't want to publicize their crime rates and targeted snatches like this, but perhaps it would be a good distraction from their safety issues.

I take responsibility for not being aware of my surroundings enough to prevent this, but I hold WMATA responsible for not developing a strategy or plan to break up this crime ring.

The WMATA Web site has a 'police blotter' that hasn't been updated since Jan. 10. It's called "weekly" so I assume it is supposed to be updated weekly. Well, it has been nearly two months!

I emailed and asked how to receive an updated copy since it should be public record. If victims had a way to share stories, perhaps the pieces of similar crimes could be patched together to help apprehend the criminals.

WMATA is more worried about terrorist drills while unsuspecting riders are victimized by our own local criminals. I realize the crime rate is probably low relatively low when calculated at a ridership level, but it doesn't matter how low the rate is when it happens to you and there's an obvious ring of criminals doing the same crime over and over again.

Transit police finally called me to follow up. The representative said iPhone snatching on Metro "a major problem.'"

I asked why the police blotter on their Web site hasn't been updated since Jan. 10, and he said he'd report it.

I emailed Metro about it three times with no response. I told them last email I was going to initiate a Freedom of Information Act request.

From Twitter:
candacearm Sigh, bestie got jacked for her iphone on #wmata today. BE CAREFUL ladies. -these assholes have apparently become an epidemic lately

Beware of the snatch and dash

Other items:
Can Sarles turn Metro around? (WaPo)/Examiner take
NJ transit watchers give Sarles mixed grades (Examiner)
Wetlands or development? (Examiner)


Anonymous said...

There are posters on a lot of the metro trains these days saying to look out for this exact type of crime, mentioning cell phone thefts. It even came to the Metro Board's attention late last year, and a specific recommendation to alert the public was made, hence the signs in the metro cars.

Above alerting the public, there's probably not much anyone (metro, dc police, train operators) could do to stop a crime where someone steals a phone and immediately jumps off the train. Maybe a bait program like Arlington does with cars to combat the thefts. It's just a well thought out crime that is difficult to catch.

That said, the reason the crime began is because someone realized most people on the metro are oblivious to their surroundings, making it easy pickings to steal phones. The only way to ultimately combat this kind of crime is for commuters to be more proactive in observing their surroundings.

Anonymous said...

Some guy tried to steal my ipod touch (looks like an iphone) last week. I kicked him in the balls then poked him in the eye (pretty good for limited space to operate if you ask me) - ironically also at Farragut W. He ran off wailing. I reported him to the transit police when I got off in Franconia.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...that sucks and I feel for you. But...
Nov. 24, 2009 (Also picked up by MSNBC)
Talks about this with iPods.

Also, I remember reading in the Examiner or Express back in September that Metro Police were doing sting operations specifically targeted at this crime. (I had a friend in town in September and I remember warning her about the problem). and unpublicized…I think not.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Metro has done a very good job publicizing this issue. I've never seen a sign, and while there may have been previous coverage on the issue, it doesn't excuse Metro's lack of response and the lateness in updating the blotter so that we can all see what's going on down there.

Anonymous said...

I feel for the OP and I'm sure she will be more careful next time. This is a problem and most of these thefts are never returned to their owner. I did hear a Metro announcement about watching for thefts and that is a start.

Anonymous said...

There's not much anyone can do. But sweeping it under the rug is no solution either. As far as this magic sign goes that some people say can't be found, what would it say? "People Steal?" or how about "Your electronic consumer goods (as both a sign of relative affluence, and with a high resale value on the black market) may be coveted by those who aim to relieve you of your property for personal gain?"

Any sign WMATA posts in regard to this issue will destroy the handicapped and eldery only signs in the most ignored competition.

Anonymous said...

"I kicked him in the balls then poked him in the eye. ... He ran off wailing."

Way to go.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, Anon 10:40, those signs for elderly/handicapped are so ignored it would not matter. Sadly it is not an indication of Metro's lapses but an indication of society ditching common courtesy to strangers.

My heart goes out to the victim here. I've seen one sign on a train about it but it was next to the sign with the rat so I darted my eyes away fast declining to read anything there. (That rat is so uncomfortable to me and it does nothing to discourage eating/drinking on the trains.)

I refuse to read email on trains. Why take a chance? If it was something urgent they'd call me anyway.

Anonymous said...

Even if crime statistics on WMATA's website aren't updated, this issue has been WIDELY publicized by the media and Metro. Securing personal belongings is an individual responsibility and aside from publicizing the issue, little can be done by either WMATA or law enforcement to prevent this type of crime.

The writer claims that this crime was "well planned" and that the thief had been watching her "for some time." If that was the case, then she must have been flashing her expensive electronics and looking completely unaware for quite some time.

The writer should not take the relatively low crime rates on Metro trains for granted and be more aware of her surroundings.

Anonymous said...

Can someone explain to me what the Metro Transit police does and why they are needed over the regular cops? It seems like every time there is a true emergency, local police show up anyway.

Anonymous said...

Your support for someone who is hurting right about now, Anon 11:20 is impressive... not. :-(

I still feel for the victim here. I've heard of people being robbed on the trains who were aware of their surroundings. Sometimes the robbers "looks just like one of us!" As Tony Soprano might say, "What-cha gonna do?"

Roma said...


heatherfeather said...

While I feel for the victim(I had my walkman stolen on the Chicago CTA), this is hardly a new situation and not necessarily Metro's fault. I've read about this for the past few years with the same M.O. Victim is seated by the doors, Perp waits until just before the doors close, then grabs the phone/ipods and runs out just as doors close.

Nowadays, it pays to be vigilant and always place the phone in a bag or in a pocket so it's not an easy target...But it still sucks.

Susan said...

I'm the victim of the iPhone snatch. I agree that I could have been more aware of my surroundings- but the phone was mine and I was using it. If WMATA didn't want me to use it, they could have posted a sign. Why increase access to cell service underground if they don't want people to be able to use phones? And no, I wasn't flashing it around. I was connecting with some friends I was planning to meet- but once again was late due to Metro service issues. I learned as a child to keep my hands off other people's property. Thou Shalt Not Steal. Let's not blame any more victims and try to focus on the issues of theft and assault- which have no justification.

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing your story - it's going to make me more careful in the future.

in foggy bottom, there are almost non-stop crime stories about people near the metro using an iphone on the street and having it snatched. the thief then usually uses the metro stop as an escape route. GW police also believe this is an organized criminal activity.

just goes to show, you can't really use your iphone in OR around metro....

jessiex said...

I had my iphone snatched about a month ago. SImilar situation. By a door. On the MUNI, in SF. The door opened, a kid who'd apparently been watching me and waiting for just the moment, snatched it out of my hands right as the door was about to close and RAN!

I did have an amazing experience, all told. My story, "The importance of sitting next to Ernest."

jessiex said...

Oh, and I sent a note to display on my phone, via mobileme, it said, essentially, "Dude, you stole a phone with GPS tracking in it. I suggest you turn it in anonymously to the police. And soon." ;-)

Anonymous said...

This is why I won't buy an iPhone while they are under contract with AT&T. AT&T does NOT insure iPhones. Get it stole you are SOL unless you put it under some other insurance policy, like homeowners or renters insurance.

Anonymous said...

When I was a kid, kids stole hub caps off cars a lot. It wasn't because kids had a burning desire to own lots of hub caps, its because criminals bought them from the kids and sold them as "used" to people who wanted cheap hub caps (probably because theirs had been stolen). Auto manufactures responded eventually and now snazzy mag wheels are the norm and "used" hubcap outlets are gone.

The new generation may be stealing some of these ipods for personal use, but obviously there is a secondary market for iphones/ipods, because my source tells me this is a one brand problem. ("You could leave a blackberry on the floor until the janitor sweeps it up, but iphones are criminal catnip.")

How about them Apples?

Anonymous said...

Supposedly Metro has cameras in the stations, right? That's one solution.

Or let me guess, they are broken too just like everything else in the system.

Another solution is to just increase the penalty for stealing on the metro. Lock them up for 10 years or something.

Anonymous said...

I was standing inside my metro station, PGPlaza, using my iphone one evenining (maybe around 9pm) while waiting for my bus. The station manager came out of the booth and told me to put my iphone away and not to use it in the stations or on the train if I could because of all the iphone thefts. He said kids stand around and watch you until they think they can grab it and that it's a huge problem in the Metro system. He said please about 10 times during our conversation until I put it in my pocket.

Anonymous said...

Just found this story after the same thing nearly happened to me today on the Orange Line going toward New Carrolton at Cheverly just before 2 this afternoon. I was reading on my iPod Touch and a young kid ran up from behind and tried to make the snatch as the doors were closing. I had a pretty good grip on it and he was pretty weak, so he just missed getting it out of my hand and didn't stick around. If I had been a little bit faster I could have made a grab for his wrist. It looked like there was at least one other kid running with him so it seemed pretty coordinated.

Yes, it's up to us to be situationally aware on the Metro at all times. No, it's not our fault if someone steals our property. I offer my empathy to the writer and the commenters who have had their iPhones and iPods stolen.

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