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‘Snatch-and-grab’ robberies of electronic devices up in Metro

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Judge Stephen G. Milliken was waiting at the Gallery Place Metro station for a train Thursday morning when a youth snagged his iPhone from his hand.

The D.C. Superior Court judge isn’t alone in having his electronic device stolen. Metro Transit Police said they’ve seen a spike in “snatch-and-grab” robberies of iPhones and similar devices.

“We’ve had a great increase in the snatching of iPhones and iPads over the last couple of years, not just here but in transit systems across the country,” Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn said.

In Metro’s system, there were 508 such robberies, which can include purse snatchings, in 2010. That’s up from 425 in 2009. From January through March, there were 99 such incidents, according to police.

In Milliken’s case, he tried to get his phone back, a move transit police do not recommend.

About 9:15 a.m., Milliken was standing on the platform of the Red Line when a young man jumped off a train and snatched his iPhone from his hand and ran off. Milliken, who most recently oversaw the misdemeanor sexual abuse case of Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in his courtroom, chased the youth down to the Green/Yellow line platform. He grabbed the youth and took back what he thought was his iPhone, authorities said.

But it turned out the phone wasn’t the judge’s.

“It was obvious he had other iPhones,” Taborn said of the youth.

The youth, who transit police said is 16 to 21 years old, broke free from the judge’s hold and got away. Police are investigating the case.

Dan Stessel, a Metro spokesman, said stealing smartphones and other electronic devices “is a crime of opportunity.” He advises people to “take common sense steps to prevent” such thefts and not carry such devices out in the open on Metro.

Police said the crime usually happens near train doors and station exits, when people aren’t paying attention and are looking at their device. That’s typically when, Stessel said, “a suspect snatches it out of their hands and runs.”

Stessel encouraged users of the latest version of the iPhone to register their devices in Apple’s free tracking system so, in the event of loss or theft, the device can be tracked by a Global Positioning System.

Transit officials wouldn’t elaborate on Milliken’s case, saying they typically don’t release the names of crime victims. The judge was first identified Thursday as the victim by WAMU.

“We’ve had extensive conversations with the judge,” Taborn said. “He’s very appreciative of the efforts that we’ve done for tracking it.”

A woman answering the phone in Milliken’s chambers Friday would not reveal any details about the theft. “I’ve been instructed to make no comment and refer all calls to the Metro police,” she said. “Thank you, and you have a nice day.”

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