Five Marquette students’ phones were stolen out of their hands while walking down the street since mid-July, in a technique called “phone snatching.”
According to the Department of Public Safety, phone snatching, when someone grabs another person’s phone and runs away with it, is on the rise.
“We’re starting to see a trend going on in the neighborhood,” said Capt. Russell Shaw, associate director of DPS. ”In about a three week period, we had four of these (crimes) occur.”
The last reported instance of phone snatching occurred Aug. 28 at 8:14 p.m. when a student was walking on W. State Street. While he was ultimately able to recover his phone from the suspect, most victims are not as lucky. As a result, DPS teamed up with the Milwaukee Police Department to help locate stolen phones.
According to the Federal Communications Commission, phone thefts now make up one-in-three of all thefts.
As a precautionary measure, DPS is encouraging students to download apps onto their smartphones that would allow them to locate the phones remotely. Apps like ‘Find my Phone’ and the iPhone’s built-in iCloud service can find lost phones and display where they are on a map using GPS. Many of the apps are free and require only registration in order to install.
To further secure a phone, MPD suggests setting a password lock, enabling remote data wiping, updating operating systems and installing tracking applications.
DPS is also asking students to become more aware of their surroundings and avoid distractions while walking, like listening to music.
“In most cases the person was walking down the street, talking (or) texting on their phone, not knowing what was going on around them,” Shaw said.
Lt. Mark Stanmeyer of MPD said the best way to recover a stolen phone is to report the theft to authorities immediately, and then check a tracking application. Shaw said phones become more difficult to locate with time.
Among MPD’s main goals is cutting down the growing market for stolen phones. Used smartphones, regardless of how they were acquired, can go for hundreds of dollars at retailers. MPD is in the process of producing databases that will allow them to track every item that is resold in Milwaukee.
“We’ve been working on a series of ordinances that would make it more difficult for stores to purchase stolen phones, and to (hold) them accountable when they do purchase stolen items,” Stanmeyer said. “With creating less of a market, hopefully it will deter thieves from stealing.”