Maurice Rogers has advice for anyone with a cellphone: Don’t leave them within arm’s reach of anybody.
He should know. A teenage boy stole his phone, a Samsung Galaxy III, last month while he was working at Roller Dome South on Bluffton Road.
Rogers, 47, had left his phone behind a Plexiglas window, on the counter in the roller rink’s admission booth. The thief reached through a hole in the window, where money is usually passed, and swiped the phone.
Rogers filed a report with police and even gave them surveillance video of the theft, but the thief has not been caught and the pricey phone has not been recovered.
This is typical of most cases of cellphones reported stolen to the Fort Wayne Police Department, says Sgt. Al Glock, who oversees the property crime unit in the detective bureau.
We very rarely ever recover one, he said.
But on occasion, police and victims are able to use anti-theft software, such as Apple’s iCloud app or Best Buy’s Geek Squad app, to track down cellphones and arrest thieves.
In a case in June, two men robbed three people at gunpoint in an apartment on St. Joe Road near Shoaff Park.
The robbers stole cash and at least two iPhones equipped with the iCloud app, which lets users track a lost or stolen phone from a computer, according to court papers.
With help from the app, which relies on GPS technology, police learned later that day that the iPhones were moving south on Evard Road and then west on Stellhorn Road. At the time, the only car traveling that direction was a white Pontiac Grand Am, so officers pulled it over. And that’s exactly when the iPhones stopped moving on the computer screen, according to court papers.
The iPhones were recovered, and two men in the car, both 21, were arrested. They have each been charged with three counts of robbery.
In that case, detectives became involved because the alleged crime – armed robbery – is a felony. However, most phone thefts, like Rogers’ case, are misdemeanors, which the detective bureau does not investigate, Glock said.
Patrol officers do what they can to solve misdemeanor phone thefts, but the reality is that, given the large number of such thefts, police do not have the time to investigate every one, the sergeant said.
In emergencies, 911 dispatchers can use GPS technology to determine the location of a cellphone. To do that in less urgent situations, like theft investigations, police need to obtain a warrant and seek permission from the phone company, Glock said.
In the last 10 years, cellphone thefts peaked at 924 in 2006. The number dropped 75 percent to hit a 10-year low in 2011, with 227 thefts. This year, 186 cellphones had been reported stolen as of last week.
Glock speculated that the numbers in recent years may be relatively low because everyone now has phones, criminals included, and the demand for them has dropped. Before, thieves would steal phones to make a long-distance call or coordinate a drug deal before tossing the phone, he added.
While there’s no clear explanation for the city’s number of phone thefts, what is certain is that cellphones, particularly smartphones, are a popular item among thieves.
Around the country, these thefts are rising sharply, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
The high resale value of these high-tech phones has made them a prime target for robbers and the personal information contained on the device that could be used by identity thieves, the FCC’s website says.
Last year, the FCC, law enforcement agencies and CTIA, a trade association that represents the wireless telecommunications industry, announced a plan to combat phone thefts, including creating an international database to track the serial numbers of stolen phones.
It is a global problem, said Jamie Hastings, CTIA’s vice president of external and state affairs. In some cases, the (stolen) phones may be going overseas.
The database, which is already in operation, will be finished this fall, she said.