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Metro Transit police go undercover to catch thieves

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You may think before reaching for your smart phone or other valuables while riding Metro. 

From January to March, 239 thefts were reported. That's nearly double the number from the same time last year.

While there may be an uptick in "snatching" thefts, police are behind many of them. They're going undercover with decoy electronics in order to take down thieves.

Metro rider Susan Janney said, "People get engrossed in what they're doing and not as aware of surroundings as we should be."

That lack of awareness becomes an invitation for thieves to strike.

Last fall, Metro Transit police created a "crime suppression team", in which officers go undercover to see what happens when they leave gadgets in full view.

In surveillance video of the tactic, a woman walks, steals the decoy iPhone and then a team swoops in and makes the arrest.

Mohammed Barakat, a Metro rider, said, "I think that's good. It will make criminals think twice before targeting someone...is this going to be a police officer or not."

Out of the 143 snatch thefts from January to March of this year more than a third, 55 to be exact, involved undercover police officers. Similarly, 70 of the 96 pickpocket crimes in the same time frame involved disguised officers. 

Everyone of those incidents resulted in an arrest.

Metro riders applaud the crime-fighting efforts, but not everyone is convinced these tactics will work in the long run.

Metro rider Richard Cordero said, "The word on the street will get around that the police department is using this kind of tactic, and they'll just be more slick about it, if you will."

"I think that the only time people are going to zip things up and be more careful is when they actually physically see it themselves and then they'll be more careful," Janney added.

Metro has been rolling out a lot of new efforts to combat crime, including an ad campaign reminding riders to keep their valuables out-of-sight.

Police are also steeping up their presence at high crime stations.

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