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Metro snatch-and-grab thefts climb 48 percent over in two weeks

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WASHINGTON (WJLA) - Snatch-and-grab thefts on Metro trains and buses have spiked over the past two weeks, a trend that Metro Transit Police officials are moving quickly to try to stifle.

Transit Police officials announced Thursday that over the period between July 24 and August 7, reports of the highly-preventable theft by snatch went up 48 percent versus the two weeks preceding those.

As the bells chime on the metro, signaling the doors to close, it is the thief’s signal to pounce. But this isn’t a solo crime. There is an accomplice, who body blows the victim before he buckles on the platform while the suspect sprints out of the station.

Metro Transit Police Chief Ron Pavlik said Thursday that the number of thefts by snatch jumped from 27 to 40 in the span of just 14 days.

"We do not want to wait to see if this becomes a trend," Pavlik said.

Pavlik says that the main target of theft suspects have typically been high-value electronic devices, such as iPhones and iPads. In all of the cases, thieves typically approach a victim, grab their device and run, whether it be off a bus, off a train or out of a station.

"I'm asking riders to pay attention and get their head out of their phone," Pavlik said.

"The District of Columbia and Prince George's County have specifically been hot spots for recent snatch-and-grabs and the thefts have overwhelmingly taken place on trains and against women," Pavlik said.

But these thefts also do take place on the Metrobus, and police say the snatch bandits often target those with the white ear buds, since it’s a telling sign an Apple device. And what’s surprising is that these thefts are not only happening at night, but in broad daylight.

"I always have my phone out when I'm on the train,' says Sophia Akhyad. "It's my everything."

Akhyad, who was spotted on her phone with her ear buds in at Gallery Place, says she has a hard time believing she'd make an easy target. 

"I can't imagine that happening because all my attention is on my phone," she says.

“I put it away when I’m boarding and getting off the train,” says Michael Duvall. “When I’m sitting around waiting I’m playing games.” 

Snatch-and-grab is a crime most authorities call a crime of opportunity; one where a suspect takes advantage of a victim being so engrossed in their phones or devices that they pay little to no attention to their surroundings. Officials say that the best way to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of crime is to simply put away your phone.

"You wouldn't flaunt $400 in cash in your hand," Pavlik said. "That's essentially what you're doing with an iPhone."

Metro Transit Police officials say that it's not safe for a victim to chase after a suspect; Pavlik fears that people who do that subject themselves to further harm or injury. Instead, officials would rather victims get a good look at the suspect to give authorities a better description.

In addition, Metro continues to roll out a large volume of high-definition cameras throughout the bus and rail system, with Pavlik saying that criminals need to know that if they attempt a crime, they're easy to identify.

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