Women warned of recent increase in phone thefts


Police say half of all robberies in San Francisco last year involved electronic devices. They say unless people take precautions like not walking and texting or talking, thefts are not likely to decrease this year.

In the Haight, Cow Hollow, Polk and Marina districts, women can be seen talking and texting on their smartphones, many not looking up for long periods of time. Police say that makes them vulnerable to a snatch-and-grab cellphone thief.

"Some guy came through the neighborhood walking real fast and just swiped it right out of her hand," Amanda, whose Polk Street co-worker was robbed, said.

Another cellphone theft occurred outside Kelly Batista's home near Polk and Green streets.

"We actually heard the girl screaming and called the police; it was pretty scary," she said.

Those two instances occurred within days of another woman being badly beaten for her smartphone at Jones and California streets. Now the women working in one Polk Street shop have posted a warning on their window for other women in the area, telling them to put their phones away while walking and stay alert.

Tuesday, yet another woman was attacked for her phone and purse at a bus stop at Divisadero and Haight streets. The thief used a stun gun.

"He did approach the victim, stunned her in the face, demanding her purse," San Francisco Police Ofc. Albie Esparza said. "During the struggle, the phone fell to the ground and he stunned her again in the chest."

Esparza says they have a description of that man and police are looking for him. All of the thefts happened during daylight hours. The bus stop theft occurred at 1:25 in the afternoon.

Many similar robberies happen on Muni. Video shows a man sitting behind a woman and as the vehicle stops he grabs her phone and takes off. Another theft caught on Muni cameras shows a man standing by the doors who grabs a woman's phone as the doors open.

Many women are now taking precautions.

"Seven or eight at night I wouldn't take my cellphone out, especially in downtown," Sidney Pamipipattanakul said.

Police say the use of weapons in cellphone robberies is also increasing. Police warn resident not to walk and text and to be aware of their surroundings if they want to use their phones or other electronic devices.

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