Cell swipes way up on SEPTA

Despite a drop in violent crime last year, one group of criminals is still feasting on SEPTA subway riders: cell phone thieves.

Thefts on the Broad Street subway and Market-Frankford El were up 31 percent in 2010 from the previous year and about 80 percent from 2008, most of which are stolen electronic devices, police said. There were 185 thefts on the Broad Street subway and Market-Frankford El in 2010, up from 141 in 2009.

Through early April, 73 thefts had been reported to police. As a result, SEPTA has launched an education campaign aimed at getting riders to keep their phones in their pockets.

“We have this love affair with our cell phones and people believe it’s safe to just text away and not pay attention to [your surroundings],” SEPTA Police Chief Richard Evans said in an interview. “They wouldn’t do that with a $100 bill, but they do it with a $500 phone.”

Evans said the trend is happening on transit systems across the country, similar to what police saw with chains during the “bling bling” era a few years ago. Evans could not explain why total arrests in 2010 dropped to about 30 percent of the 2008 figure.

Rider advocate Matthew Mitchell said riders need to be more cautious, but a more visible police presence would also help.

“Obviously you need to have a visible police presence and sometimes it has to be on the trains as well as in the stations,” Mitchell said. “Right now the focus I’ve seen is in the stations in order to prevent the kinds of gatherings that can escalate.”

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