By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — Watch out, iPhone users.
Thieves are snatching the popular devices right out of straphangers' hands, especially in lower Manhattan's subways, where 50 percent more cell phones have been stolen this year compared to last year, police said.
"iPhones are hot," said James Rudolph, community affairs officer with the NYPD's Transit District 2. "We're getting slammed in the subway because of the iPhones."
So far this year, 36 phones have been stolen from people riding the subway in downtown's 1st Precinct, up from 24 in the same period last year, Rudolph said. Five of the seven phones stolen in the past month were iPhones, he said.
"When you get on the subway, stick your property in your bag and pay attention to it," Rudolph told residents at a 1st Precinct Community Council meeting last week. "Don't be complacent."
The thieves often take advantage of people who are so absorbed by the small screen that they aren't paying attention to their surroundings, Rudolph said. The criminals yank the phone away and then slip out of the subway car as the door is closing, he said.
Smartphone fans should also be careful about using the devices on the streets, Rudolph said.
As the weather gets warmer, thieves tend to move from the subway to the sidewalk and catch people as they're entering and leaving the stations, he said.
"It's usually right around the subway," said Capt. Edward Winski, commanding officer of the 1st Precinct. "It's mostly teenage kids. They run by, grab it, and keep going."
Winski said iPhones are popular among thieves because they are in high demand in the resale market. They're also easier to snatch than larger items like iPads, Winski said.
Crime in the 1st Precinct is still down 6 percent compared to last year, but Winski said it would be even lower if not for the phone thefts.
"It's starting to hurt us," he said.