Dear PoPville – Be Alert for Snatchings at all Times of the Day

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

Dear PoPville,

Someone attempted to snatch my phone on Friday, July 27 at 9AM on 16th Street between Irving and Columbia Rd – tons of people around – super brazen. He tried to steal my iPhone but he failed. Then on Monday July 30 at 11AM I saw a guy on a bicycle on the sidewalk on 14th Street near Columbia Rd slowly pulling up behind women scoping how what they had – he had a special interest in women with strollers looking to see what they had on the top, etc. He saw me looking at him and he took off.

Then, the coup de grace was at Meridian Pint at about 730PM that same Monday (yesterday). With no less than 50 people around (Red Rocks deck, Meridian Pint outside seating, dog park and passersby) a guy snatched something (I think it was an iPhone) from a guy and took off running. Though the guy ran after him, he never did catch up to him and he got away.

Both incidents the cops were called and it took over 15 min for them to show up though we know they are around the hood quite a bit. Totally ridiculous.

I am writing to help spread the word about all the snatchings in Columbia Heights and to warn people to keep their phones hidden and be very aware of suspicious people AT ALL TIMES OF THE DAY!!!

93 Comment

  • The cops take their time to show up because they don’t want to be shot, stabbed, or beaten by the repeat youth offenders who perpetrate the majority of these crimes with impunity in DC.

    Until DC’s revolving door youth “rehabilitation” system is reformed, these crimes will remain commonplace.

    • Here is a little reality check for you. All of this data is available on the web:

      In 2007 there were 181 homicides, in 2011 we had 108. — The 2011 homicide total is the lowest since 1963, the last year the District had fewer than 100 homicides.
      In 2007 there were 4,447 robberies, in 2011 we had 4,207.
      In 2007 there were 3,195 assaults with a deadly weapon, in 2011 we had 2,520.
      In 2007 there were 3,958 burglaries, in 2011 we had 3,948.
      In 2007 there were 6,050 stolen autos, in 2011 we had 3,820.

      The abscondence rate of DYRS youth—is down from 26% in 2003 to approximately 6% in 2011.

      Crime in DC is no worse today that it was 5 years ago, it’s acutally declining.

      • austindc

        Damn you and your verifiable facts! ::shakes fist::

      • And, simultaneously, population was increasing.

      • No, the crime *stats* are declining.

        When the cops show up 15 minutes later to a robbery and don’t take a report, it’s not in the crime stats. By suppressing reporting, the police can play a numbers game. Crime is up, but is underreported. I also know someone who reported a robbery that was later changed by police to a “theft” for some reason- I suspect it’s because “robbery” looks bad.

        • It’s hard to tell how much of this is a problem. I imagine DC has had some kind of CompStat style system since 2007, but I could easily be proven wrong on that.

          Regardless, it sucks, but it’s your duty as a citizen to insist that the police file a report, and that you follow up to make sure it’s not been downgraded.

        • i agree with this assessment. a friend of mine was robbed, at gunpoint, in logan circle. he flagged down police and they told him to submit a report online. he never did.

        • bfinpetworth

          Yep, I had a robbery at my house and reported it to police. The guy that showed up an hour later took a “report” on a pad of paper and provided an supposed report number. Later I called to check on the status of the “report” and there was none. No robbery ever showed up in the DC crime states. Nice.

          • that is crazy. if that happens to people, they should contact the commander for the police district or Cathy Lanier–via the MPD listservs, if possible, since ANC and Council reps read them. We shouldn’t have to do that, but it’s the best way to hold folks accountable.

        • They’re jukin’ the stats.

        • Yeah, this is a common problem. A smarter cop will try to talk the person out of filing a report, or convince them to downgrade the type of crime being reported, so they don’t get in trouble for it later. It happened to me when I was burglarized.

        • I am the one who sent this in to PoP and when I called the cops after my attempted snatching they wrote my name and cell number on a ruled note pad and that’s it. There’s your ‘stat’.

      • AND???? So what, don’t fret none

        – Why are little crimes like jay walking, broken windows, and our Litter Bug citizens and their children carefully taught ok. Now this phone non-sense.

      • All those stats are valid — except DYRS abscondence. The DYRS abscondence rate is a total sham, and everyone knows it. DYRS facilities don’t have the records necessary to calculate a valid rate:

        • Furthermore, I think that these stats sort of prove the point that Anon 11:08am was trying to make:

          In 2007 there were 4,447 robberies, in 2011 we had 4,207.

          Robberies haven’t really declined much, possible because there is no penalty for robbing someone, and if you’re under 18 in DC, you get a gentle slap on the wrist and are sent along your way.

          I also have a friend who was assaulted but the DC police did not report the crime as an assault.

      • So we are comparing to 2007 when things were really pleasant and safe??

  • Hurry for my flip phone.

    • Allison

      lol yah, one of the many reasons I continue to carry around what I call “my ol’ turtle phone.” Ah, ancient samsung flip phone, you have served me well.

      • Me too. I’ve had the same one for six years. I’ll join the 21st century when they drag me in, kicking and screaming!

      • Good to hear I’m not the only one. The thing has been dropped onto concrete and asphalt, kicked, fallen 5 floors off a balcony (landed in soft bushes though). I’ve even dropped it in the toilet, twice. It still keeps going, excellent voice quality, holds a charge for a week.

  • Perhaps “Be alert at all times while walking the streets of DC” should be a text banner that scrolls at the top of the PoP website.

  • The best part is these devices are all equipped with accurate GPS locators, and can easily be identified by the Wireless providers as unique to the original owner, yet the cops are frankly too lazy to do anything about it.

    • im not so sure it’s laziness… lots of other shizz going on in the city and a stolen iphone probably doesn’t make priority. i would rather have my police resources going towards tracking down guns/stabbings/break-ins/armed robberies/etc… things that are posted on the MPD Alerts almost every day.

    • Tell me – right now, how can a cop track my phone with the equipment he has in his car. It can’t be done.

      • He’s got a Panasonic Toughbook with Internet Access. You access your phone account from the laptop in the car.

        you were saying?

        • What “phone account”? Is this for a particular phone or carrier? Does it have to be setup beforehand? Does the phone have to have GPS software on it? Does it come preset from the factory with all of this ready to go? Does the person who was just robbed have the phone account/password on them?

          • Anyone w/a smart phone really should get something like Track and Protect. It’s a free download. When my roommate had her iPhone stolen, she was able to track where the phone was with the app and make it play loud ringtones randomly until the perp ditched it.

      • My mother had her purse stolen last year (mugged on Christmas eve!) and the police would not track her phone with GPS because she wasn’t considered a victim of a violent crime (even though she was shoved to the ground when it happened.)

  • I saw a similar incident downtown where a kid snatched a guy’s iphone. The guy chased him down and the kid ended up throwing the phone into the street so he could get away.

    • If that happens to me, I’ll totally stay after the perp. My employer will replace the iPhone, and I’d like to show one of these punks a different kind of experience.

  • The stolen cell phone lists that major providers are creating will soon make these gadgets useless to the thieves.

  • The frequency and brazenness of these incidents is truly ridiculous.

    As long as criminals worry only about outrunning their victims, they will continue these kinds of theft with impunity and in greater numbers. Calls to 911 are almost useless.

    The MPD must do something to shake the confidence of criminals. If the criminals began to hear about set-ups, they would make a very different assessment of the risk in snatching phones.

    What is the MPD doing to address this problem?

    • MPD, along with other jurisdictions, recently got the cell companies to agree to shut down stolen phones. The idea is that once this is in place, the resale market will dry up. I have no idea whether the criminals will come up with a work around, but the strategy seems sounder, and more cost effective, than flooding the streets with cops.

      • Yes, I read about that many weeks ago. Hopefully it will work.

        For now, I’d like to see some set-ups — like the MPD did on Metro trains. Sound like it would not take long for the criminals to take bait in the area described by the OP.

        • People need to take some reasonable precautions. Cell phone are easy to sell and basically like cash. People wouldn’t leave $400 sitting on the table at Meridian Pint or walk around Columbia Heights waiving $400 in the air. It doesn’t make it right when someone grabs the cash (or phone) and runs, but it also shouldn’t be a surprise.

        • Especially if the bait phone is wired to deliver a taser shock when remotely detonated!

        • I’d rather see these kids raised by parents (emphasis on the plural) to believe that stealing a phone is wrong.

          • Your emphasis on the S in parents is offensive.

          • Really? It’s offensive? I think it’s probably fairly widely accepted that two solid role models in the home are better than one, however awesome that single dad or mom is.
            I took it as a statement of societally accepted truth, even if it’s not taken to heart (or practice) the way it once was.

          • But that’s not respecting tradition!

          • Yes, parents need to teach kids that stealing is wrong. Plain and simple. When we were kids, my friends and I never would have thought “Hey, let’s go snatch that purse. That’ll be fun and cool.” It never crossed our minds. Why? Because we were taught it was wrong. If kids steal and are caught, they AND their parents should be punished.

        • To Anonymous @ 12:23: tell me what’s more offensive — option 1: my thinking that the prevalence of single-parent households is a problem. option 2: everyone thinking that the answer is to more harshly punish kids for petty (or worse) street crimes, like that’s gonna help in any way…like there’s a finite number of kids, and all we have to do is lock them all up. That’s offensive. It’s ridiculous to ignore the real issues.

          • Nolo, what is offensive is the suggestion that it takes more than one parent to teach that stealing a phone is wrong. Two of our recent Presidents, and personally my favorites, were raised by single mothers.

      • Yeah but the cell companies have multiple years to implement this. In the meantime, it’s stealin’ time up in the hood!

      • Yes, Chief Lanier has been pushing this as well!

    • DC Dude posted some 2007 vs 2011 stats about crime in DC. Don’t let those facts interrupt your rant, though.

      Smartphones have street value. They’re easy to steal. Theft of items under $1,000 is a misdemeanor in DC. You want cops to spend resources on sting operations to prevent somebody’s $200 toy from being stolen? Come on.

      Once cell phones have zero value immediately after being stolen, then theft of these devices will go down. Carriers are putting this into place.

      • I dunno if crime will go down unless we address the reason people feel the need to steal. If the phones go down in value, wouldn’t criminals just switch to stealing something else? Or robbing more often to make up for not being able to sell phones?

        • Exactly.

          Smart phones are simply the target du jour. There’s no magic technical solution for robbery and theft. These criminals have to be deterred, or else caught and punished, and that requires effective law enforcement.

        • Many of these thefts are opportunistic. If somebody knows all they need to do is snatch a phone and run like the wind and end up with $300 for the sale, it’s an easier decision than, say, having to beat up a person in an alley and grab their wallet or purse to receive an unknown amount of money (probably less than $300 cash). Plus the charges are higher if you’re caught.

          • Agreed. There is a cost-benefit analysis to crime, just like everything. If the benefit is high, the item is simple to grab, and escape is easy, the item is going to be stolen frequently. When these phones can be shut down, it does not necessarily follow that the criminals will just move to other items.

      • OF COURSE we must expect the police to respond to misdemeanors.

        Come on.

        Doing otherwise would open a floodgate to crime and still more reports, consuming still more police resources.

  • Are people so important these days that they cant walk down the street without their phone in clear view?? Its one thing to need a phone for emergency use tucked in a safe place. However, my guess is some of these thefts are from people walking down the street checking Facebook (or reading PoP) rather than being aware their surroundings.

    • Yes, certainly the most offensive part of this story is that the victim had the audacity to use his phone in public.

      • …and thus becoming easy bait for the thugs.

        • Yes. Clearly, crime is the fault of the victims, and not the perpetrators. The victims deserve all of the blame for tempting the perpetrators.

          • I’m not suggesting that at all. However, if someone walks down the street with an expensive device clearly visible they are bait for the robbers.

    • What are your thoughts on listening to headphones while walking home from work? It’s not something I normally do, but I want to brush up on a foreign language and it’s the easiest time for me to listen to the instructional mp3s for it. I keep the phone tucked into my bag and keep the bag tightly clutched, but the visible headphones makes me wonder if I’m making myself a target.

      • Of course they make you a target. I don’t know how many stories in the DC blogosphere, how many stories on the DC nightly news people have to see before they acknowledge it, but personal device crime in the District has sky rocketed.

        Also, generally…being tuned out in public is a bad idea. Even if you were living in a utopia where it doesn’t make you a prime target for theft, it draws your attention away from everything else. I don’t know how many times I have seen people zoned out with their headphones in walk out into a street against the signal and nearly end up as a hood ornament because they couldn’t hear what was going on around them.

        • There’s a difference between being alert and having the volume at a reasonable level vs. being completely tuned out.

        • He/she wasn’t asking if personal device crime in DC has skyrocketed or not. I think we all know that. The question was, is having a phone in your bag instead of your hand just as risky?

          • I’d guess that it isn’t. Not to say it’s completely “safe,” but it seems that having the device inside a bag means that it would add time/complication/risk if someone wants to steal the device, and thus makes the person a less attractive target than someone holding the device right out in the open.

        • +1. Your post is 100% correct.

      • It’s funny– in Chinese cities people deliberately walk around with iPhone earbuds (even if they’re not attached to an iPhone) because it’s a status symbol. Here it’s too dangerous to do that!

      • I grew up in a big city in the crack 80’s. We were always told “situation awareness” – pay attention to someone/noises behind you, hold your purse a certain way, carry yourself like you are going somewhere (i.e. don’t look like you aren’t paying attention). Those lessons seems to have gone by the wayside.

        Plugging up your ears means you can’t hear as well and texting says my attention is on the phone. Both clearly say to those with ill intent that 100% of your attention is NOT on what is going on around you which is the universal signal that this person is a much easier mark than the person just in front of them without the earbuds or the texting.

        I am not saying texters and those wearing earbuds are asking for it because even those who take care can be victims. I am just saying people need to take more control of their safety because someone else isn’t. People’s choices are the first line of defense.

        Make those f**kers work for their ill gotten gain for pity’s sake – don’t just hand it to them because you can’t wait a few blocks to send that text or post that picture on Facebook.

  • Great advice. I was running through Georgetown the other morning around 515AM and I was shocked at how many people were clueless to surroundings glued to iPhones. I try to make noise and say excuse me when passing – especialy women – so they know I’m not some violent criminal – but with earphones no one care hear me.
    The best was some kid with his iPad held up to his face that almost walked into a post. Come on people, wake up and unplug!

  • To whomever posted crime stats..well done. You managed to take data and still miss the point. Posting macroscale DC crime data when these property crimes are skyrocketing in the bubbles of area that the hipsters have recently moved into is pointless.

    For example, take DC crime map and insert Meridian Pint (location of above story). You will find that total property crime is up 21% year over year within a 1000 foot radius. Basic theft (like this phone snatch) is up 47% year over year.

    Trying to whitewash the problem with useless stats is pointless. Also, people need to keep their devices IN THEIR POCKETS at all times while standing outside, in the metro etc.

    • Don’t keep it in your pocket either. I don’t know how many stories in the DC blogosphere, how many stories on the DC nightly news people have to see before they acknowledge it, but personal device crime in the District has sky rocketed.

  • Yeah we all work hard, take public transportation, walk to work, and we are the ones who are stupid because we call our wife to tell them we are coming home, or check our work email while sittting on the metro. I see youth on the metro holding their Iphones blaring music for the whole train to enjoy without being scared its gonna get stolen.

    Call a spade, a spade. The problem is these brazen SOB teens and those in their younger twenties, that are not afraid of police, their parents, and their fellow man. Thats why they will steal your phone in broad day light around 50 other people.

    People we all belly up. I’m talking about standing up for your fellow man and neighbor. When I see kids riding their bikes around my neighborhood looking in car windows, I let them know I see them. We all know who the majority of these crimes are being committed by, thats unfortunate and another topic, so its time to show them the citizens of DC aren’t going to be scared and run away from their petty BS.

    • EXACTLY.

      Looking out for one other is basic to being a citizen and a decent human being. It means that each of us must perform many miniscule acts of courage — such as watching out for other people’s safety and property, and cooperating with others to deter and apprehend criminals. When each of us performs these small tasks, we shift the risk of crime from us to the criminals. It’s easy for a criminal to get away with a crime when the victim is the sole risk. But when dozens of bystanders may intervene, observe the criminal as he flees the scene, and contact the police, then that criminal confronts an exponentially more difficult challenge.

    • +1 We should all be vigilant but there is an obvious problem. It’s hard to address in an atmosphere of extreme P.C.-ness. Perhaps that is for another discussion, too.

    • I once reported a guy who was looking in car window after car window. I felt kind of weird about it — he hadn’t committed a crime. But he was peering into each car furtively, and meandering through residential streets with no destination at a pre-dawn hour. I followed him for several blocks, expecting that he would break a window any second, but the police arrived first. After frisking him, they let him go, of course. But I’m glad that I made this happen. The guy will surely worry more about casing autos.

  • More things like this from last month need to happen…only thing he should’ve done different is give him a swift kick to the teeth before turning him over to the police.

  • No need for the sarcasm.

    Presumably there are people out there who DON’T realize this, i.e., the ones whose phones are getting stolen.

    And I think it’s good that the OP pointed out broad daylight and the presence of other people don’t preclude brazen theft.

    • The snarky post to which I was replying has now been deleted.

      (Just as well, methinks.)

    • Actually, sarcasm is quite useful. And it’s odd that with all of the offensive things that are routine posted and allowed to remain in these forums, the post that gets removed is one that points out the obviousness of the point being made by the OP.

  • I was mugged on Friday July 27th around 1pm on Chaping St. right by Meridian Park. They were 3 thin male teens (hispanic looking). One of them asked for the time. They were definitely looking for iPhones or at least some expensive phone. This seems like a group operation or maybe something that these kids are doing to kill time in the summer. Keep your phone in your pocket or bag when you are walking about!

  • Across the board people need to realize that they live in a city and crime occurs. In 2007 the number of “smart phone” users was a lot less especially in Columbia Heights. Those that did may not have been as comfortable walking around with them out and about or leaving them on the table while sitting outside of a restaurant/coffee shop. When “smart phone” users become more comfortable they let their guard down, and criminals notice this. Take the headphones out, be aware of your surroundings, and maybe try and interact with the human beings next to you on the street.

  • I just testified to a grand jury about an armed robbery that I witnessed last month. Three suspects robbed and pistol-whipped the victim AFTER taking all of his weeks earnings and cell phone.

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