TriMet police reduce smartphone thefts

Posted on April 26, 2013

Portland, Ore.-based TriMet and the Transit Police Division (TPD) are cautiously optimistic this spring won’t see a repeated spike in smartphone robberies on the transit system.

The anticipated reduction can be attributed to the hard work of two TPD officers, credited with thwarting the group behind the majority of the smartphone robberies last year.

After a sharp increase in smartphone snatches last April and May, TPD increased patrols, conducted undercover missions, scoured TriMet security cameras and video and dedicated two officers to investigate the robberies.

This type of robbery, also referred to as “Apple Picking” due to the popularity of iPhones, is a crime of opportunity centered particularly around public transportation where groups of people gather and are often distracted with their phones. Transit agencies across the country have seen smartphone robberies jump.

Transit Police officers Kristi Butcher and Brandon Gentry received Achievement Awards from the Portland Police Bureau for their investigation that broke up a smartphone robbery ring. Most were minors.

Transit police officers Kristi Butcher and Brandon Gentry spent more than 190 hours reviewing TriMet security video and saw suspects conducting surveillance on their victims. In many cases, the suspects would pass by the victim several times, getting closer and closer, waiting for the opportunity to strike. They often grabbed the phone out of a victim’s hand and ran before the owner could even react.

Officers Butcher and Gentry were recently honored with Achievement Awards from the Portland Police Bureau for their work that was pivotal in solving the majority of the robberies. Butcher, Gentry and their fellow Transit Police officers made 53 arrests in 49 cases during a span of nine months. Many of the suspects were involved in multiple robberies. Those arrested ranged in age from 15 to 18, and many knew each other.

During the increase in robberies, TriMet put out reminders to riders to keep an eye on their electronic devices. “Protect your stuff” posters went up in buses and trains, and reminders were sent out via social media and email.

Transit Police and TriMet’s Safety and Security Executive, Harry Saporta, have a message for anyone who might think about reprising the smartphone snatches this spring or committing any crime on TriMet: We’re watching you.

“We have cameras on our buses, trains and platforms,” said Saporta. “You do something wrong and we have you on video. Our transit police officers use those images to track you down and TriMet will make sure you are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

There are a number of “Find my phone” mobile apps that could help if a smartphone is snatched, according to TriMet. If such an app is installed on the phone, it could help police not only find it, but track down the culprit as well.

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