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NYPD: Subway robberies down by 22% in 2013

An NYPD officer watches passengers as they arrive

An NYPD officer watches passengers as they arrive at the 4,5,6 and 7 subway station at Grand Central Station. (Jan. 27, 2014) Credit: Charles Eckert

Decoy operations helped reduce the number of robberies in New York City's subway system by 22 percent last year, the NYPD's top transit officer told the MTA board Monday.

Electronic devices were a popular target for subway muggers and pickpockets, making up 54 percent of stolen property in all robberies and grand larcenies.

"Clearly, our decoy operations were critical to reducing these electronic thefts," Chief of Transit Joe Fox said, adding the NYPD will "continue to use decoy operations frequently as part of our broader strategy to reduce theft of electronic devices."

In recent years, transit police beefed up their presence in the subway system as pricey smartphones became the top target for criminals.

During 2013, transit police hatched 248 decoy operations, in which plainclothes officers present would-be thieves an opportunity to grab a device from a seemingly unsuspecting rider.

Those operations last year netted 96 arrests, with 70 percent of those caught in the act having a criminal history. Nearly 40 percent of those arrested with a criminal history had committed a crime inside the transit system. The total number of arrests in the system last year went up 6.7 percent to 51,368 -- a difference of 3,228 arrests.

While robberies were down, grand larcenies were relatively flat, climbing 3 percent, Fox said.

Altogether, there were 2,606 major felonies committed in the transit system last year -- 126 fewer than in 2012, a 4.6 percent drop.

The reduction in crime coincided with record ridership. Last year, the system averaged 7.1 felonies a day, down from 7.5 felonies in 2012 -- a statistic Fox said was an "encouraging result" given the ballooning number of riders.

Eugene O'Donnell, a former NYPD officer and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the drop in crime has many riders showing "a real comfort level" in using electronic devices on the subway.

"You see a lot of people using these devices like they're in their living room at home," O'Donnell said.

He called the number of stings "modest," but added that they are a deterrent to crime, sending a message that makes potential robbers think twice before stealing a smartphone.

"You don't necessarily need a lot of it to be effective with the criminal population," O'Donnell said. "Word gets out."

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