Get off your phones! Cellphone and laptop thefts in the BART system were up 32 percent in 2019 over the previous year, and in San Francisco the stations where the most thefts occurred were Balboa Park and 24th Street/Mission.

BART just released new data on snatch-and-grab thefts, which increased significantly between 2018 and the end of last year. There were a total of 1,180 devices stolen across the transit system last year, 288 more than in the year prior, and nearly 40 percent of the thefts occurred at the same handful of stations, as the Chronicle reports.

The uptick in device thefts on BART was something BART police were already aware of in the middle of last year. Back in May of 2019, BART police officers were handing out cards on their patrols telling riders that getting lost in your phone was like standing there "holding a thousand-dollar bill in your hand." At the time, 402 device thefts had already occurred in the BART system.

As BART Police Chief Ed Alvarez explains, most of the crimes occur on trains when a train has pulled into a station. The thieves, typically juveniles, eye a mark who is distracted and has their face in their phone. They wait until the doors are about to close, snatch the phone from the unwitting person, and jump off the train before anyone can react. The thieves then will often head to Civic Center Station and U.N. Plaza, where there has traditionally been an ongoing black market for stolen goods. And a fence will typically hand the kid $300 to $400 for the phone, depending on the model, right on the spot.

Also, Alvarez says, the thieves have have "got[ten] smart," and they typically turn off the phone the minute they steal it, so that Find My Phone doesn't function.

While Balboa Park tops the list for most frequent snatch-and-grab thefts in 2019, the number was almost twice as high in 2019 as it was in 2018. "It happens at different stations at different times, and right now it’s Balboa," Alvarez tells the Chronicle. Going both by 2019 numbers and two-year totals, the next two most likely spots for such thefts are 24th/Mission and Coliseum Station in Oakland, followed by West Oakland and 16th/Mission. Overall, you are still likelier to have one of these thefts occur in Oakland than in SF, but not by much — there were 378 device thefts in Oakland last year, compared to 309 here on this side of the Bay.

Below, the tallies:

  • Balboa Park: 118 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 183
  • Coliseum: 103 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 156
  • 24th Street/Mission: 88 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 132
  • West Oakland: 60 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 122
  • 16th Street/Mission: 81 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 118
  • Fruitvale: 63 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 107
  • MacArthur: 49 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 105
  • Glen Park: 60 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 100
  • 12th Street Oakland: 42 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 95
  • Powell Street: 47 thefts in 2019; 2-year total - 94

Of the 1,180 device thefts last year, BART police made arrests in 67 of the cases, or 5.6 percent of the time. In another 36 cases, there are pending charges against identified suspects who remain at large.

In short, all those warnings on BART and Muni about keeping your wits about you and not standing there transfixed by Candy Crush or Instagram — especially when you're next to a door — should be taken seriously!

Previously: BART Police Issue New Warning Amid Uptick In Cell Phone Thefts On Trains

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