By Eli MacKinnon
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The NYPD is worried that Brooklyn commuters aren't paying attention, at least not to the aspects of reality that don't fit on a 2-by-4-inch screen.
Officers at Downtown's 84th Precinct say the rising menace of distraction dependence is driving up crime and endangering commuters. Gerline Cadet, a crime prevention officer for the NYPD’s Transit Bureau, suggested that the only people who don’t seem to be having trouble living in the moment are iPhone thieves.
Cadet reported on the recent upswing in the theft of handheld electronic devices in the subway system, and offered tips on how to combat it, at Tuesday night’s 84th Precinct Community Council meeting.
According to Cadet, the most important thing a commuter can do to protect his or her own private piece of Steve Jobs’ legacy may also be the one thing that Jobs didn’t intend for his customers to be able to do: put it away.
On the train, concealment and abstinence are the most effective security measures. But Cadet recommends that commuters who can’t resist taking a morning shot of Justin Bieber every day leading up to his Barclays appearance, at least swap out their tell-tale, bright-white Apple earphones for more generic black ones that don’t highlight the quickest path to an iPhone.
She also advised extra caution to owners of expensive noise-canceling headphones, gadgets that pose a risk not only for their increasing desirability to thieves (the low-end model of Dr. Dre’s popular Beats headphones retail at $150) but because they serve their designated function: to cut off the wearers from their environment so that they can fully immerse themselves in sonic reverie.
As evidence of the dangers of canceling noise too successfully, Cadet pointed to an experience she had Monday morning when she received a call about an unattended pit bull that had stationed itself near a subway entrance.
While attempting to secure the block and steer passersby around the volatile dog, one man who was leaving the station did not heed her warnings.
“He couldn’t hear us because he had his headset on listening to music. We beeped at him, he walked right by the dog, and he got bit by the dog,” she said. “The new technology is taking attention away from what we really need to pay attention to.”
The 84th Precinct’s Deputy Inspector Mark DiPaolo reminded handheld users to keep their gadgets away from subway doors.
“Perpetrators are timing, they're watching, and when they hear ‘Beep beep, stand clear of the closing door,’ it's like saying ‘On your mark, get set, go,’” DiPaolo said. “And it’s the same thing on the street. If you lose yourself in your texting and your email, you don't really know what's around you or who’s paying attention.”
Adding to DiPaolo’s worries is the fact that iPhone myopia not only makes commuters more susceptible to crime but also impedes the investigation of the crime after the fact.
“Most of the time, these crimes don't get solved, because the person is usually distracted and not paying attention to their surroundings and they really can't tell who did it,” he said.
In cases like that, DiPaolo says his officers can sometimes leverage lucky surveillance footage to solve a crime, but he says that the most important thing for the victim of a phone-snatching to do is to try to get a good look at the perpetrator’s face.
Police Officer John Kenny, a crime prevention officer for the 84th Precinct, also reminded smart phone users to enable any built-in security features designed to help locate a stolen phone.
The 84th Precinct, which covers an area stretching from Boerum Hill to DUMBO, has recently had some success with the iPhone’s “Find My iPhone” app, a preinstalled (but not pre-activated) program that allows iPhone owners to GPS locate and remotely lock their phones from any other Internet-enabled device.
Police Officer Benito Ocasio was named the 84th Precinct’s “Cop of the Month” on Tuesday night for his canny use of the app earlier this spring.
On the afternoon of March 20, when a woman reported a gunpoint robbery of her iPhone at the High Street subway station, Officer Ocasio was able to quickly track her phone to the Farragut Houses in Fort Greene by using the app. And after he and his colleagues secured the entire housing complex, he took advantage of a “Find My iPhone” feature that allows users to trigger a loud noise on the phone.
As it happened, Ocasio triggered the noise just as the suspect, a 55-year-old man, was walking through the lobby.
DiPaolo explained, “[The suspect] literally tried to walk right past big Ben here, and Benny was able to take him into custody and recover the phone.”
But the iPhone’s high-tech tracking app is by no means fail-safe; it can be thwarted by simply turning off the phone.
Officer Kenny wondered Tuesday whether a little old-fashioned restraint would be enough to make satellite triangulation obsolete as a smart-phone security tactic, and whether people should willingly outsource their smarts.
“Do you have to make that text, do you have to make that phone call before you go underground, do you have to talk to someone at 2 in the morning walking down the street? It’s stuff that we never did before and all of a sudden we can't live without it,” he said. “And it's not gonna get better because they invent these things to make you buy more, and these things are not making you any safer.
"How many people can remember phone numbers anymore? I can’t remember half my friends’ phone numbers anymore because everything’s under a name now. It’s linked and it’s synced.”