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Metro: Bike and phone theft rise, other crime falls

Friday - 3/28/2014, 6:08am  ET

Metro train (WTOP Photo/Adam Tuss)
Keep both hands on your cellphone when you're on a train or in a station to reduce the likelihood of theft. (WTOP)

WASHINGTON -- New figures released by Metro find overall thefts of bicycles and electronic devices rose in 2013, when compared to 2012.

Snatch thefts, common with smartphones, jumped 30 percent, with 643 reported in 2013. The year before, there were 491 such thefts, Metro reports.

Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik believes it's because more people are standing on station platforms or aboard trains transfixed by their smartphones.

"We always encourage our customers, and I've said it before, to get their head out of their phone. We're such a social-driven media society now. If (you) do use it, use two hands. And just maintain awareness. If you see someone encroaching on your personal space, then just tuck it away," says Pavlik.

Metro police have stepped up efforts to catch these crooks. They have encouraged people to "brick" their phones, making them invaluable to thieves.

"It's kind of like a stool. One leg of that stool is the police department. We've got to ensure we're continuing deploying our resources appropriately. The second leg of that is technology, whether that's from the cellphone carriers themselves or our CCTV system and improving it to HD technology. The final piece is relentless education and the awareness of our customers," Pavlik says.

Bicycle thefts are up about 25 percent from 330 in 2012 to 411 in 2013. Part of the reason appears to be the growth of bicycling in the region over the last two years, including the expansion of bike-sharing programs.

Metro says more customers are storing their bicycles for multiple days at a time. That makes the bikes easy targets for thieves. Pavlik says some common crooks prey on these vulnerabilities and are responsible for multiple thefts.

"Take advantage of our free U-locks. We'll give you a U-lock, if you take time to register. It takes 3 to 5 minutes at most. Don't leave your bike there more than a couple days. Take a photo of your bike. If your bike is stolen, you should know your serial number because it's hard for us to track your bike at a pawn shop or Craigslist without your serial number," says Pavlik.

He says recovery rates are very low because most people don't remember their serial numbers or key details about what their bikes look like.

Pavlik says U-locks are the best style of lock, because they're made of titanium and can go around the entire bike frame. The traditional chain lock only goes around the tire, making it easier for a thief to break.

Metro reports 96 percent of the bike thefts in 2013 were on bicycles with old chain locks. Only 4 percent were with the newer U-locks.

The Metro Transit Police Department also monitors where bike thefts occur and puts crime suppression teams at spots where crime is on the rise.

Metro reports other crimes are going down. Aggravated assault, homicide, pickpocketing, auto-related larceny and auto thefts were all down in 2013.

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