A train at Farragut North. (Luz Lazo – The Washington Post)
A train at Farragut North. (Luz Lazo – The Washington Post)

Metro riders were victimized by cellphone and bicycle thieves more often last year than in 2012, but the number of automobile thefts on Metro property declined, as did pickpocketing, the transit agency says.

Calling Metro’s buses and subway trains “a target-rich environment” for snatch-and-run thefts, transit Police Chief Ronald A. Pavlik Jr. said in a report to the agency’s board of directors that “the prevalence of portable electronic devices, particularly iPhones, over the last five years has made the crime of theft/snatch skyrocket.”

There were 643 snatch thefts in the Metro system last year, 90 percent of which involved cellphones, compared with 491 snatch thefts in 2012, according to the report, which will be presented to board members Thursday. “The perpetrators are predominantly young men acting alone,” it says. “About two-thirds of the victims are women.”

Pavlik said in the report that transit police have been using “multiple strategies to deter snatches on both rail and bus,” including “crime-suppression teams, distribution of crime-prevention literature, station announcements [and] external media messages,” urging riders to hold onto their devices tightly

More violent thefts, defined as robberies, also increased, from 337 in 2012 to 432 last year, the report says. “Many robberies involve the taking of a cellphone,” Pavlik noted, “and are usually divided from classification as a theft-snatch because of a struggle between the victim and the suspect.”

Last year, “we averaged a little more than one robbery per day,” he wrote. “Almost 70 percent of robberies occur within the District of Columbia. The overwhelming majority of suspects are young men under the age of 25 years old. Over 60 percent of the victims are also young men.”

Meanwhile, the number of bicycle thefts on Metro property rose from 330 in 2012 to 411 last year, a 24 percent increase, according to the report. Pavlik said transit police “are using casual-clothes officers to provide surveillance of bicycle racks” and assigning “targeted uniformed patrols” to specific subway stations, based on theft trends.

“We distributed literature and bicycle locks at several outreach events,” the chief said in the report. “In addition, we partnered with other [transit agency divisions] to improve bike rack security by installing more racks at identified stations, removing abandoned bicycles and constructing a secured bike cage at the College Park station.”

The news was better in Metro parking lots and garages, where the number of automobile thefts declined to 182 last year, compared with 288 the year before, according to the report. “Motor vehicle thefts are at more than a 10-year low,” Pavlik wrote. “It is not surprising that motor vehicle thefts and attempts have decreased significantly over the last few years with the sophistication of vehicle onboard security.”

As for pickpocketing, there were 58 incidents last year, 122 fewer than the year before.