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Phone theft rates on BART soar

“BART police detectives are walking trains in the San Francisco corridor this week to hand out cards advising riders to be aware of their surroundings”

BART cops on the platform at Civic Center Station. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to the BART Police Department, passengers have suffered 402 cases of electronic device theft from January to April of this year—more than twice the number recorded during the same period in 2018 and even more than recent years combined.

Data circulated on BART’s blog this week showed 105 device robberies in April alone. The overwhelming majority of thefts—75 percent so far in 2019—are committed via “snatching,” with thieves grabbing devices out of patrons’ hands and fleeing the train.

The remaining 25 percent were robberies by “force or fear.”

What BART does not specifically mention is that these theft figures represents a large year-over-year increase compared to the first four months of 2018. San Jose Mercury-News reports that last year saw only 191 phone robberies on BART during the same period. In fact, the first four months of 2019 saw a 64 percent increase over the number of robberies that BART used to suffer in an entire year.

Based on figures reported in Mass Transit magazine, BART averaged 244 personal device thefts for calendar years from 2011 through 2016, with a high of 333 and a low of 137 during that period.

The number of thefts jumped to 417 in 2017, according to a Contra Costa County grand jury’s report.

BART currently faces a ridership decline that coincides with the disintegration of its public approval. In January, the transit agency’s annual rider survey found that the number of commuters with a positive outlook about the system declined 13 points year-over-year, down to 56 percent.

Worries about crime in the system were one of the most commonly cited rider complaints, coming only behind station cleanliness.

At a BART Board of Directors meeting earlier this month, directors struggled with how to appease disgruntled commuters. Alameda County Representative Liz Ames pushed colleagues to hire more transit cops, saying, “There’s lawlessness going on on the trains.”

However, BART Police Department’s short-term solution for device theft is less aggressive.

“BART police detectives are walking trains in the San Francisco corridor this week to hand out cards advising riders to be aware of their surroundings, so they can avoid falling victim to thieves,” according to the agency.