Thieves looking to snag iPhones and other electronics on the subway have been increasingly targeting sleeping straphangers, according to transit officials.
NYPD transit bureau chief Joseph Fox told the MTA's transit committee Monday that thefts involving sleeping riders made up nearly a third of all grand larcenies in the subway system last month, up from 17% last year.
In the past, subway crooks typically snatched devices out of the hands of commuters sitting near train doors, according to Fox. But in recent weeks, he said, “more often they’ve been stealing from passengers who are sleeping on the train.”
“This particular type of criminal seeks out sleeping passengers and then uses a razor blade to cut the victims’ pockets and remove the property,” Fox added.
MTA police have seen a surge in the theft of electronic devices as smartphones, e-readers and tablets have become more popular. Grand larcenies have increased nearly 40% so far this year, compared to the same period last year.
The NYPD has countered the crime spike by adding more than 240 transit cops at the beginning of the year. Each of them has already averaged more than seven arrests and a dozen summonses apiece, according to police statistics.
Under an initiative dubbed “Operation Tool Box,” subway cops flooded the transit system during the week of March 5th. The result, Fox said, was more than 1,400 arrests, the apprehension of more than 350 wanted suspects and 32 knives being found and removed by police.
Fox added that another similar operation began Monday morning, and would continue throughout the week.
The transit police force has also had luck finding stolen phones using an app that tracks down iPhones and iPads using GPS.
Just last week, police arrested Brian Mack, 35, for allegedly stealing a 32-year-old woman’s purse and iPhone at gunpoint at the High Street A/C station. They found Mack along and the woman’s belonging by logging into her iTunes account and using the free app.
Straphangers said they’re trying to be more cautious when riding late at night with their pricey gadgets.
“Often times when I'm sleepy, I'll stand up just to make sure I don't go to sleep,” said Bolaji James, 52, of Flatbush, who said he once had his CD player stolen late at night a few years ago. “And I always stay in the same car as the conductor."
“When it is so late, you need to protect yourself,” he added.
Ashlee Sadler of Fort Greene said a friend had her iPod stolen when she was awake and riding alone at night.
”I try not to ride the subway by myself late at night just because it can be so dangerous,” said Sadler, 26. “I try to ride with a friend or make sure I stay awake and sit in a car with other riders."
(With Timothy S. Herrera)