‘Fertile territory’ for thefts: SEPTA subways

While cell phone thefts on SEPTA are already on the rise this year, transit officials said they expect the numbers to increase dramatically with the release of the iPhone 5.

Since Apple’s latest installment of the smart phone was released Sept. 21, law enforcement agencies across the country have been on alert for thefts, being dubbed “Apple picking.” SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III said yesterday that transit police are also looking out for the trend.

“It’s going to increase for us and we just want people to have a couple moments of awareness and I think it’ll really make a difference,” Nestel said.

SEPTA already has seen a spike in phones taken this year. Through Sept. 27, there have been a combined 364 thefts and robberies, compared to 365 in all of 2011.

Arrests also are up, with 47 in 2012 compared to 50 in 2011, but it does not seem to be deterring criminals, Nestel said.

“I think it’s an issue of once a bad guy finds fertile territory he’s going to come back, and our subways and Els are fertile territory,” he said.

In most instances, the crimes have occurred on the Market-Frankford El (between Huntingdon and Bridge streets or 46th Street to 69th Street) or Broad Street Subway (Fern Rock to City Hall).

The offender typically waits until the doors open before snatching the victim’s phone and fleeing, according to Nestel. Most of the incidents take place between 4 and 6 p.m.

App could help track down thief

Another tactic that is helping police catch smart phone thieves is online tracking applications, according to Nestel. As soon as the phone is taken, users can track the phone’s location using GPS, which even works underground.

The chief said SEPTA has had “great success at that. We also recommend that anybody that has an iPhone activate their iPhone tracking capability.”

Many of the thieves have their escape route planned, but that wasn’t the case for one suspect last week. Nestel said the male snatched a phone on the Broad Street Subway and then fled into the tunnel. Police sealed off the tunnel and took the male into custody, he said.