Hold the Phone: Cellphone Thefts Soar on the BART in 2019

California’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a major transportation system with 48 stations in and around San Francisco and Oakland. As the fifth-busiest rail rapid transit system in the U.S., BART boasts 112 miles of transit lines and an average of 126 million passengers per year. Unfortunately, not all passengers have pleasant experiences on the BART. Some become victims of harmful crimes. In 2019, the rate of cellphone thefts on the BART doubled, leading detectives to officially warn riders to keep careful track of their belongings.

BART Theft Rates in 2019

From January 1st to April 30th, 2019, BART riders reported 402 electronic item thefts. This is more than twice the amount of cellphone robberies BART reported in the same months the year before (2018). The spike in cellphone theft has led to enhanced public awareness efforts from BART authorities, as well as hiring 26 additional BART police officers to help prevent theft crimes. So far in 2019, BART police officers have arrested 29 suspects for robbery and grand theft.

Most cellphone thefts on the BART are theft by snatching, not theft by force or intimidation. However, some victims have suffered personal injuries and emotional trauma in addition to losing their electronic devices in thefts by force. In March of 2019 alone, 90 victims lost their electronic items by snatching and 27 by force or fear. BART authorities are spreading awareness about how passengers can decrease the risk of thieves targeting them while on the train.

Keep Your Phone Concealed

It can be tempting to take out your cellphone to pass the time while riding the BART, but authorities recommend leaving electronic devices securely in bags, purses or fanny packs. Bring a book or magazine to help you pass the time instead. Pulling your phone out could catch the attention of thieves on the BART. Avoid becoming a target by not letting anyone on the train see what type of cellphone or electronic device you have with you. Use a bag with a zippered pocket for your electronic devices to reduce the odds of a thief being able to snatch your cellphone unawares. Avoid keeping your phone in loose pockets someone could reach into without you noticing.

Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Part of the public education program by BART officers is to hand out index cards with information and warnings regarding cellphone theft. The index cards recommend all passengers stay aware of their surroundings while riding. Instead of falling asleep or listening to music, stay alert to your surroundings while on the BART. If you do use your phone, look up from the screen occasionally to assess the environment around you. This could help you notice suspicious activity or someone eyeing your electronic devices.

Be Extra Cautious at Stops

A phone thief can snatch a phone and depart the BART in two seconds flat. Most thieves will wait until the train arrives at a station to steal a device to make a quick getaway. As a passenger, pay special attention to your surroundings in the minutes leading up to stops and stations. Put your phone away a few minutes before you know the BART will be arriving at the next station. This could limit a thief’s ability to grab your phone out of your hands and run.

Do Not Resist a Phone Thief

If a thief tries to take your cellphone by force or fear, surrender your electronic device. Do not try to resist or fight off the thief. The thief could be armed and dangerous. Your cellphone is not worth a potential personal injury. Simply give the thief your phone and try to remember what he or she looked like. Then, call 911 and notify BART police officers of the situation. File an official incident report with as much detail about the perpetrator as possible. Your information could help BART police identify, find and arrest the person who stole your cellphone. You may even get your device back.

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