Crime up on Metro-North; cops seek robber

A southbound train pulls into the New Rochelle A southbound train pulls into the New Rochelle Metro-North station. (March 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Angela Gaul

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Commuters toting more mobile devices, record warm temps and a busy robber contributed to an uptick in crime near Metro-North stations in Westchester in recent months, officials said.

Felonies rose 10 percent in 2011, with 35 incidents occurring in the first three months, according to the MTA. This year, felonies were up 26 percent in January, February and March on the five Metro-North lines: There were 44 felonies, with robberies and grand larcenies accounting for 33 of the reported crimes.

"We had an additional 14 felonies (in 2011) for the entire Metro-North system," said Majorie Anders, an MTA spokeswoman. "We carried 82.8 million passengers in peace. The increase does not constitute a crime wave."

Anders said the proliferation of mobile devices is mostly to blame.

"It has to do with the snatching of electronics, which is a nationwide trend," she said. "Thieves are grabbing cellphones and iPads, electronics . . . that's it in a nutshell."

Richard Bennett, 50, a New Rochelle social worker and martial arts black belt who lives in the Bronx, said he never displays electronic gadgets during his Metro-North commute.

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"Why would anyone do that anyway? It's an exercise in folly," he said.

Police are hunting a gunman who they believe is responsible for eight robberies in Pelham, Mamaroneck, Harrison and New Rochelle since January. Nearly all the victims were commuters.

Police have increased patrols near Metro-North stations in an effort to catch the gunman who was described as about 5 feet, 10 inches tall, African-American and wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and a bandanna or mask, Harrison police Chief Anthony Marraccini said. "We're working with other jurisdictions that have had similar incidents."

The gunman typically came upon his victims from behind after they left the stations, displayed a gun, told them to lie down, and then robbed them of cash, cellphones and other gadgets, police said.

Harrison police have deployed uniformed officers on station platforms, as well as undercover officer patrols near the stations. "We're keeping the heat on."

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Commuters at several Westchester Metro-North stations recently said they felt safe, but they remained vigilant.

"When I get off the train at night I'm always conscious of who's around me," said Cherie Ball, a 22-year-old Iona College student. Ball, who travels to and from her public relations internship in Manhattan, said she makes sure to be on the phone talking to her mother or a friend when she gets off the Metro-North train at the New Rochelle station.

"It's definitely scary," Ball said, as she waited for a train to Grand Central Terminal. "There's definitely been more police around, which is good."

"I never worry," said Robert Ramirez, 50, of Mount Vernon. "I always feel safe. There's always plenty of police around."

New Rochelle Police Capt. Joseph Schaller said the unusually warm winter also contributed to a boost in train station robberies.

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"Last year we were buried under several feet of snow all winter," he said. "No one was out. This year's different."

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