Muni riders warned to be aware of potential thieves


Ride any bus in San Francisco, and you'll see people listening to music, texting and talking on their smartphones. It's a modern pastime for the digital generation, but it's also an all-you-can-eat buffet for a thief.

Robert Dasing says he's learned to be vigilant on the bus.

"I sit there and watch people's movements, actions; they come close enough to try to steal something, I put it up," Robert Dasing said.

But many riders are distracted by their phones. On one bus crawling its way up Mission Street Tuesday, it seemed everybody knew somebody who's been robbed of their electronics on the bus.

"One of my lady friends got her phone stolen, another one of my friends had his headphones stolen," Dwain A Vas said.

In a surveillance tape, a thief grabs a backpack full of camera gear and slips out the back door of the bus. Police say that is how most of the robberies happen.

"You're coming to a bus stop, you're near the rear door, they'll just snatch the device and away they go," San Francisco Police Cmdr. Lea Militello said.

That's why Muni has launched a bold campaign of billboards showing the perils of distracted riding.

"If you look at this artwork, this is almost exactly how it goes," San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said. "This woman is not paying attention but somebody else is."

Though this is just the start of Muni's latest public awareness campaign, riders we talked to on the 14-Mission bus were already well aware of the problem. Some are even taking steps to protect themselves.

"Mostly leave it in my pocket," Michael Coles said of his cellphone. "Because it's a high-tech phone."

In fact, high-tech phones are now stolen in a staggering three-quarters of robberies in the city, both on and off the bus. They're valuable and easy to sell, which makes them as good as cash to a crook.

"When you're looking down and not paying attention, it's like taking $300-$500 out of the ATM and then walking down the street counting it and not paying attention," Suhr said.

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