Brooklynites Cautious As Subway Theft Rises


As if busy New Yorkers didn’t have enough to worry about this holiday season, an old nuisance is growing alarmingly commonplace. Opportunistic thieves are snatching purses and other items in the subway with increased frequency, often right out of owners’ hands.

Subway theft is up 23 percent from this time last year, the NYPD has reported. The most targeted items are electronics.


A man absorbed in his tablet device while riding the subway. (Photo: Brian Eha / The Brooklyn Ink)

Many subway riders say they try to stay alert and protect their possessions. But observation and conversation suggest they could be doing more to prevent theft, and, in the event that they fall victim to crime, to recover their stolen items.

“Someone could just come up and snatch it right out of your hand, and then what are you going to do?” said Nick Diaz, a Williamsburg resident.

“I definitely feel like I pay attention to my electronic devices on the train. I hide my headphone cord so it’s not as obvious that I have an iPhone,” he said.

On Thursday afternoon, the Brooklyn-bound L train was filled with passengers. Many of them were absorbed in an electronic device—a smartphone, mp3 player, e-reader or tablet computer.

One of these was Christina Ionno, a stylish twenty-something headed for the Grand Street stop. Upon boarding the train, she immediately pulled out her iPhone 4S and tapped out a lengthy text message—while listening to music on her iPod.

When asked about her tech habits, she laughed and admitted she gets wrapped up in the devices. Still, she knows not to make herself a target.

“I always try and be cautious when I’m on the subway, especially when I’m standing,” she said. “I’m usually pretty aware of my bag.”

The NYPD has deployed undercover officers to pose as unsuspecting tech users in order to catch thieves red-handed. But the first line of defense, authorities agree, should be users themselves.

“I do think about it,” said Phyllis Ma, an L rider who boarded at Graham Avenue. “If I’m on the train late at night, I won’t listen to my iPod.”

Ma wasn’t aware of the increase in occurrences of theft, but said she became more cautious after a friend’s iPod was stolen in broad daylight in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Partly to blame for the rise in subway theft is the growing ubiquity of expensive handheld digital devices. The various models of Amazon’s Kindle as well as iPhones, iPads and similar products are catnip to crooks.

With the holiday shopping season gathering steam, it’s likely that more digital devices will be making their way into consumers’ hands. Global tablet sales are expected to reach 59 million by the end of 2011, according to research firm Canalys. And industry sources who spoke to DigiTimes last July have projected that Apple will sell 60 million iPads in 2012 alone.

Ionno admitted she hasn’t installed any applications that could help police recover her mobile device if it were stolen.

“I just got the iPhone and I haven’t looked into that yet,” she said.

These applications include Apple’s Find My iPhone and Find My iPad and Blackberry’s Protect, all free to download.

Diaz does have Find My iPhone installed on his device. “I just got it,” he said. “I haven’t had a reason to use it yet, thank God.”

One defense against thieves may be a return to good old-fashioned print media—at least while riding the rails. Straphangers willing to risk looking antiquated can put away the Kindle and pull out a paperback. It’s hard to imagine a thief pouncing on a dog-eared copy of The Brothers Karamazov.

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