Monday, June 18, 2018
Public safety

Tampa police make video message in face of smartphone thefts

TAMPA — More than a million smartphones were stolen last year. Tampa averages three reported thefts a day.

Though violent snatch-and-run robberies occur, the most common scenario is subtle. People often set cellphones down on tables, bar tops and benches. They leave them in cars.

"It's a crime of opportunity," said Tampa police Chief Jane Castor.

In Washington, New York and other major cities, about 40 percent of all robberies involve cellphones, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

It seems like common sense when pointed out: Smartphones are mini-computers. They're expensive and contain personal information — like a laptop and wallet rolled into one.

But people sometimes still treat them like the more disposable version of years past, when phones could be replaced for $50 or less. Now, a replacement iPhone without insurance can cost $650.

The problem is so pervasive, the iPhone version has some nicknames: iCrime or "apple picking." The New York Attorney General recently launched a Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S.) initiative, pointing to the statistics and cases where the victims were injured — or even killed.

He wants cellphone operators to add a "kill switch," which would render stolen phones inoperable. That would take away any incentive to steal, he told reporters.

In Tampa, the police department has taken a different approach. The agency created a light-hearted YouTube video featuring a canine phone bandit.

Like its previous Call me, Maybe parody video, the agency hopes it'll get lots of clicks.

"We didn't want a boring video," said spokeswoman Andrea Davis, whose 10-year-old female border collie, Razzy, stars as the bandit.

Retired from competing in agility, Razzy picked up her role quickly. She hides behind a tree at Henry and Ola Park in Tampa and sneaks up behind an unsuspecting visitor, grabbing the cellphone with her teeth.

"It's very creative," Chief Castor said. And she said she hopes viewers will forward it to friends. On social media, animal videos seem to get the most attention, she said.

It took only about 20 minutes to capture on video, Davis said. At the end of the nearly three-minute video, police added tips:

Make a passcode necessary to use the phone. Pay attention to your surroundings while walking and texting. Don't leave your phone inside your car.

Police also suggest downloading a tracking app, and if your phone is stolen, don't immediately cancel your service, they say. Law enforcement can use the device's GPS to track it to the thief. Recently, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office did that with a stolen iPad, which was found in the suspect's car.

In Pinellas County, deputies have seen a steady stream of reported cellphone thefts — commonly from vehicles and at schools, where students often sport the latest gadget.

Tampa police have taken reports of phones wrestled out of people's hands or picked up at restaurants and bars.

"It seems like common sense," Castor said of her department's campaign. "But smartphones have become such a part of our everyday life that we tend to take them for granted."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Comments
St. Petersburg teen, 16, and unborn child killed in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, 16, and unborn child killed in Pasco crash

A St. Petersburg teen, 16, and her unborn child were killed Sunday night in a crash in Pasco County, according to a release from the Florida Highway Patrol. Emily Pearson was killed on Little Road at 9:11 p.m. She was a passenger in a 1997 Ford Rang...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
St. Petersburg teen, 16, and unborn child killed in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, 16, and unborn child killed in Pasco crash

A St. Petersburg teen, 16, and her unborn child were killed Sunday night in a crash in Pasco County, according to a release from the Florida Highway Patrol. Emily Pearson was killed on Little Road at 9:11 p.m. She was a passenger in a 1997 Ford Range...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and fled scene

Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and fled scene

TAMPA — Police are seeking the public’s help in locating the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian before fleeing the scene on Sunday night.Police say the driver struck an unidentified woman near the intersection of N Nebraska Avenue and E Linebaugh...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Motorcyclist and pedestrian die in Pasco crash

Motorcyclist and pedestrian die in Pasco crash

NEW PORT RICHEY — A motorcyclist and pedestrian both died in a crash Saturday night near Palmetto Road and U.S. 19, police reported.About 10:30 p.m., a St. Petersburg man, 41, was riding a 2012 Honda motorcycle north on the highway, according to the ...
Published: 06/17/18
1 dead, 20 injured in New Jersey arts festival shooting

1 dead, 20 injured in New Jersey arts festival shooting

TRENTON, N.J — Shooting broke out at an all-night art festival in Trenton, New Jersey, early Sunday, sending people stampeding from the scene and leaving one suspect dead and 20 people injured, a local prosecutor said. Many of the 20 injured were tre...
Published: 06/17/18
Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

Mazzaro’s Italian Market closed after Friday night warehouse fire

ST. PETERSBURG — Mazzaro’s Italian Market will be closed throughout the weekend after a warehouse fire broke out Friday.A St. Petersburg Police officer noticed smoke coming from the market at 22nd Ave. N around midnight Friday, said St. Petersburg F...
Published: 06/16/18
A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

A fentanyl death. A crackdown on opioid dealers. Will it help?

TAMPA — Loueita Hargens had known for years how her son Bradley Dykes would die. She had seen him cycle through drugs of choice, had lost track of the number of times he’d wound up in the hospital or prison.A recovering alcoholic herself, she cut him...
Published: 06/16/18
Deputies: Body found in Pasco lake is New Port Richey man, 74

Deputies: Body found in Pasco lake is New Port Richey man, 74

Deputies identified a body found in Frierson Lakes in Hudson on Thursday as a 74-year-old New Port Richey man.Kress Luebke’s kayak was seen overturned in the water on Thursday night, according to the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.A resident living along Fri...
Published: 06/15/18
Updated: 06/17/18
St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

St. Petersburg police make arrest 31 years after sexual assault

ST. PETERSBURG — Police arrested a man Friday in connection with a 31-year-old sexual assault case and believe he’s connected to other unsolved cases from decades ago.Anthony Stokes, 56, faces a charge of armed sexual battery, according to St. Peters...
Published: 06/15/18
Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

Records detail Wrigley heir’s $480,000 betrayal by trusted employees

ODESSA — One day in the summer of 2014, Helen Rich spotted a Facebook post about an aging black Labrador in Kansas named Lady who badly needed a new home. The author and heir to the Wrigley gum fortune had recently lost her own Black lab. Rich decide...
Published: 06/15/18