The NYPD is boosting its presence underground to battle a continuous rise in thefts of mobile devices within the subway system.
After Police Commissioner Ray Kelly added more than 240 transit cops in January, the agency has been approving extra overtime for the underground officers, NYPD transit bureau chief Joseph Fox told the MTA's transit committee yesterday.
Thefts of electronic devices made up nearly half of all crime last year with 1,217 reported thefts, a jump from 39% in 2010. Last month, stolen electronics - including smartphones and e-readers - made up 59% of all crime, statistics show.
Cell-phone thefts have been on the rise since July 2010, which Fox noted was around the same time the iPhone 4 went on sale. Since then, there has been a steady increase of cell-phone thefts, while reported jewelry thefts have declined, according to NYPD statistics.
More than 300 officers have been assigned to four-hour overtime shifts so far this year, Fox said, so they can browse trains and stations for would-be crooks. The NYPD has also trained 51 officers to perform decoy operations to nab smartphone thieves, up from 15 cops who were trained to do the stings last year.
Fox called the decoy teams of uniformed and plainclothes cops "highly effective," citing 24 operations that have led to nine arrests in the first six weeks of 2012. He said he is counting on the increased police presence to deter thieves.
"We're hoping more individuals who would snatch a cell phone take a moment to think whether the person holding the cell phone is a police officer as part of the decoy team," Fox said.
Fox said straphangers commonly use electronic devices on subways because they feel safe there.
"For the large number of people who use hand-held smartphones and computers, a subway station or the inside of a train car seems an ideal place to catch up on e-mails, texts, play games and read e-books," Fox said.
MTA board member Andrew Albert said riders need to be more careful with their pricy gadgets.
"The police are doing their job. Riders have to do theirs," he told amNewYork. "Riders have to display a little more street smarts - or subway smarts in this case - about how to display their electronics, to be conscious of their surroundings."
Follow reporter Marc Beja on Twitter: @marc_beja