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Picky iPhone Mugger Near Columbia Doesn't Want Your BlackBerry

By Murray Weiss | December 9, 2011 8:18am | Updated on December 9, 2011 8:20am

Just how crazy is the demand for iPhones?

In Morningside Heights, a mugger with an exclusive taste for Apple's pricey smart phone is victimizing people, particularly students at Columbia University, according to police reports. His desire for them is so high, that when a victim hands over a BlackBerry, he'll return it in disgust and move on to attack someone else.

In one incident, the suspect followed a student into the lobby of a brownstone on West 114th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue on Nov. 15, pulled a gun and demanded the student's iPhone.

The frightened student immediately took out his phone and handed it over. But it was a BlackBerry.

The thief looked at it and immediately handed it back.

"I want iPhones," he snarled, according to a source.

Then another student suddenly appeared in the hallway. The gunman pointed his weapon at him and demanded his iPhone.

That student immediately pulled out his phone and handed it over. It, too, was a BlackBerry.

"Once again the suspect handed it back when he saw it was not actually an iPhone," according to a police report.

The suspect fled empty handed.

In another incident, on Nov. 21, a female student was walking with a friend on West 114th near Amsterdam Avenue, not far from the location of the earlier incident. A man wearing a black leather jacket, dark ski cap and jeans grabbed her. He slammed her against a fence and threatened to beat her up if she didn't hand over her iPhone.

She said she did not own one, and the would-be thief left without taking anything.

But campus security later determined that the same suspect minutes earlier had followed another student into a nearby building, apparently to rob someone, but somehow was spooked and left, sources said.

In all these cases, Columbia security personnel found photos of the suspect on the university's state-of-the-art surveillance system that is in place throughout the Morningside Heights neighborhood.

The images, which were so clear they might have been snapped on an iPhone, were given to the NYPD. No arrests have yet to be made.

There was yet another iPhone robbery on Oct. 25. Two students were accosted on West 114th Street between Amsterdam and Broadway, this time by two thieves, one of whom pulled out a box cutter.

Surveillance footage was obtained, but no arrest has been made in that case either.

Sources tell "On the Inside" that the NYPD's 26th Precinct hasn't had the manpower to pursue the iPhone muggers, as cops there have been sent downtown to keep an eye on Occupy Wall Street.

And iPhone thievery is not the only criminal activity besetting the Morningside Heights campus community.

On Nov. 19, at about 2:05 a.m., two women were robbed at gunpoint on West 122nd Street, near Amsterdam Avenue, by men who stole a purse and fled in a black sedan.

Just this week the NYPD's Deputy Commissioner for Operations, Patrick Timlin, completed a study on the city's 16,000 robberies through October for Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. It told him what every cop already knows: that iPhones and other high-tech gadgets are items prefered by criminals in more than half the robberies.

Kelly recently paid a visit to Columbia University with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. They attended a class by former Mayor David Dinkins. A student, who actually attends New York University, got into the class and heckled Kelly about the NYPD's "Stop and Frisk" policy and manhanding of Occupy Wall Street protesters, sources said.

"Says something about the security of this school, don't you think?" Kelly was overheard whispering to Vance, according to sources.

Perhaps the university might say the same thing of Kelly. After all, his NYPD polices the streets around the school, where the iPhone thieves remain at large.