As smart phones and tablets have become increasingly popular with consumers in the U.S. and Canada, it has meant more people are taking the devices onto buses and trains while commuting to work or home.
And as a result of more devices on transit, it has also lead to a rash of electronic device theft on buses and trains. Now the Maryland Transit Administration Police Department is taking measures to try and stop the thefts in a proactive approach there.
“It’s definitely a growing crime trend nationally and it’s not just here,” said MTA Police Lt. Kelly Holman, who is also acting commander of the special operations unit. “It’s a national epidemic, so we’re taking a proactive approach to help combat this problem.”
MTA police have begun a new initiative with the Baltimore Police Department and Baltimore City Schools Police Department to curb electronic thefts on transit by increasing their presence on routes and educating riders about reporting incidents.
Holman said by the end of 2012, there were 151 incidents reported to MTA about electronic device thefts and 68 of them were cleared by investigators. Since the beginning of 2013, there have been 54 to 56 thefts reported to MTA police, which is up from 25 during the same time period in 2012.
Most of the incidents are related to juveniles, Holman said, so it was important to put together a coalition between the three police departments.
Now Holman said officers will board buses at specific locations, speak to the operator to see if there were any issues on the ride, then the officer will go through the bus and look for other violations, such as someone eating or drinking, or playing loud music. Holman said the officers will get the operator’s badge number, then hand out pamphlets to riders informing them to be proactive in protecting their electronic devices on the bus.
Holman said the entire process doesn’t take long and in the first few weeks of the program, the public has been very supportive of the program, which can also help with stopping other crimes taking place on transit or near stops.
“The riders appreciate our presence,” she said. “When they see the police out there interacting with the public and the fact it’s sending that proactive and positive message and they appreciate that.”
In just two weeks, there has already been some signs of the program having a positive impact. Holman said in the northeast district of Baltimore the number of electronic thefts has already been cut in half.
Holman said the program will continue indefinitely to stem the tide of thefts and as MTA keeps seeing success, more transit police agencies from across the U.S. are contacting the agency to learn more about the programs so they can get something similar started.
“Getting proactive in getting the message out there is the biggest issue,” she said. “We’ve got public service announcements being looped on buses on the light rail system and it’s just another added measure to the message out by giving out pamphlets and getting the message out to riders who are out there every day.