CTA thefts spark concern

A series of phone thefts on public transportation has drawn student concern.

By Rebecca Guterman

Divinity School student Lauren Bayne was riding the #55 bus at around 6:45 p.m. Saturday evening, listening to music on her iPhone as she traveled home from the Garfield Red Line stop. As the bus slowed to a stop at the intersection of Russell and Morgan Drive near Washington Park, someone reached from behind her, grabbed her phone, and ran out the middle doors of the bus.

“It happened so quickly,” Bayne said in an e-mail. “I stood up right away and cried out.”

The driver stopped the bus and distributed incident report cards to everyone who witnessed the theft. A handful of U of C students waited with Bayne on the curb while she filed a report with the police and CTA employees transferred the passengers to another bus.

Saturday night was not the first time Bayne had heard of such thefts on the #55 bus, nor is it the first time in the past year a U of C student has been robbed while using public transportation.

Last Saturday, a thief stole second-year Ritu Prasad’s iPhone at the 47th Street Red Line stop. Last spring, second-year Rohan Puri’s iPhone was snatched from his hand on the #55 bus near Washington Park as he attempted to call home for Mother’s Day. Puri pursued the thief to Washington Park before the Chicago Police Department (CPD) escorted him home.

Several students said that they had been warned by friends not to display their cell phones if asked for the time. In multiple instances, the thief first asked the victim for the time and then seized on the opportunity once the victim had fished his phone out of his pocket.

The day following Bayne’s theft, for example, first-year Dake Kang had a similar confrontation at the Garfield Red Line Stop at 4 p.m., when a man approached him inquiring about the time. When Kang said that he did not know, the man continued to press him about whether he had a phone, even asking what he had in his pockets and whether he had a laptop in his backpack.

Even though most of the thefts have occurred outside of UCPD’s jurisdiction, UCPD’s Public Information Officer Bob Mason said that the department has dealt with phone thefts recently.

UCPD officers cannot pursue suspects when the crime occurs outside their jurisdiction, which stretches north to south between 39th Street and 64th Street and east to west between Lake Shore Drive and Cottage Grove Avenue.

Darryl Baety, a CPD spokesperson, warned that students should “be aware conscientious of how they use their devices” and of “the environment around them.”

Many of the victims said that they had changed their behavior when riding the CTA.

Bayne said she was skeptical when she overheard people warning each other about phone thefts. Now, however, she said she would be more careful.

“I definitely will never ride the bus with my phone out and just casually resting in my hand again,” she said.

Prasad recommends that owners take initiative by recording their serial number from the box so that Apple can track the phones remotely, if necessary. First-year Hannah Wang, a witness to the Bayne theft, vouched for GPS trackers that can help track down stolen phones.

The CPD does not keep data on phone thefts specifically. However, both Baety and Mason said that phone thefts on public transportation are common.

“For as long as these electronic devices have been used, has been a reccurring throughout the city,” Baety said.