Metro warns riders to protect personal electronic devices

January 30, 2013

Metro is reminding riders to protect personal electronic devices such as phones, tablets and other gadgets from theft on the rail system.

The transit agency reported on Wednesday afternoon that during the two-week period from Jan. 13 to Jan. 26, 31 electronic devices were stolen on the Metro system.

Metro points out that this is an increase over the preceding two weeks, when 19 items were taken. Still, it’s a drop from the 44 items taken over the same two weeks in 2012. (It’s unclear whether the drop has anything to do with the presidential inauguration, which occurred right in the middle of this year’s two-week window and which saw a surge in police officers here from out of town to patrol the Metro system.)

During this two-week window, 28 of the thefts took place on Metrorail and three occurred on Metrobus. While some of the devices were recovered, most were not, according to Metro spokesman Dan Stessel.

Snatching thefts are a recurring problem for Metro. There were 438 such thefts in 2011 and 491 in 2012. These thefts involve purses and other items as well as phones and tablets.

The increase last year also comes with a small asterisk due to Metro Transit Police activity. To combat these thefts, officers went to high-crime spots to pose as regular commuters holding personal electronics or other items. Once a theft occurred, the thief was promptly apprehended. Police made about 70 of these arrests last year, according to Metro. (It’s an asterisk because the person who committed the crime still committed a crime, even though they didn’t rob another traveler.)

As smartphone usage becomes more common, along with tablet ownership, thefts of such devices have become an increasing problem. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier spoke out last month about “bricking,” which involves having your phone remotely disabled and effectively rendered useless.

RELATED: Read Dana Hedgpeth’s story from last year about a commuter who broke his arm chasing down an iPad thief.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He runs Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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Mark Berman · January 30, 2013