St. Paul crime: Cellphone robberies soared in 2013Published 9:51am Tuesday, February 4, 2014
By Mara H. Gottfried
St. Paul’s police chief heralded statistics Monday that show serious crime in St. Paul was the lowest last year in at least 14 years, but said he has some concerns, especially about the number of cellphone robberies.
While major crime was down 6 percent from 2012, robberies were up nearly 9 percent. Last year, 258 cellphones were stolen, compared with 170 in 2012, police said.
Kate Cavett’s iPhone was snatched out of her hand while she was at a meeting at the McDonald’s on East Maryland Avenue last year. At the same time, someone stole her acquaintance’s cellphone off the table.
“There were some kids in the booth behind us and I was aware of them, but trying not to be concerned about them,” she said of what happened before the robbery. “They were both stolen in five seconds. I just felt so violated and so frustrated and so angry; I felt like I should have known better.”
In St. Paul and around the country, robberies of cellphones have occurred at gunpoint and with physical force.
“These are very concerning numbers,” police Chief Thomas Smith said of the robberies. “We’re hoping to do some PSAs this year, and push out more information. We want to get people to be more aware of their surroundings vs. looking intensely at their iPhone and not knowing who is behind them.”
Officials nationwide have been demanding that manufacturers create “kill switches” to combat surging smartphone theft across the country. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar visited the University of Minnesota last month to discuss ways to increase student safety, and highlighted her proposed federal “kill switch” legislation, which would enable cellphone theft victims to render their phones inoperable to thieves and wipe their personal and financial information from the device.
The 2013 St. Paul crime statistics released Monday show serious crimes against persons were up 2.8 percent from the year before, and crimes against property down 7 percent.
Overall, the police department said there were 13,285 major crime offenses last year, the lowest since at least 1999. There were 18,653 that year, police said.
In 2013, there were nearly 30 percent more rapes reported than the year before — which represented 50 more offenses — which Smith attributes in part to a change in how the FBI counts such offenses. Beginning in 2013, the FBI instructed police departments to expand the definition of rape for purposes of the agency’s Uniform Crime Reporting. The FBI has said it expected the number of reported rapes would rise as a result.
Burglaries fell 12 percent compared with the year before, and commercial burglaries were down 16.5 percent year-over-year, continuing a trend of a 50 percent reduction compared with 2009.