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It's Back to the Future With Phone Snatches, Chain Grabs Up in Brooklyn

By Sonja Sharp | September 21, 2012 10:46am

CROWN HEIGHTS — It was supposed to have gone the way of the 8-track, but while Friday's release of the iPhone 5 has cops on high alert for smartphone grabs, old-school chain-snatches are quickly becoming one of Central Brooklyn's most popular property crimes. 

While the iPhone remains Brooklyn's most sought after snatch, thugs in Bed-Stuy and Crown Heights have been targeting older men for their gold, officials in the 71st and 81st precincts say. 

"The price of gold is off the scale, so we're seeing this late 70s, early 80s chain snatching phenomenon," Lt. Steve Weiss of the 71st Precinct told a community council meeting Thursday. "When I started 14 years ago and someone got their chain snatched, we'd look at each other like, 'what is this, the 80s?'"

The throwback crime has seen a surge in Brooklyn, particularly near train stations along Utica Avenue in Crown Heights and Broadway in Bed-Stuy. Residents were shocked after two toddlers were robbed of their gold chains this summer, but what once seemed like a fluke is quickly becoming a trend.

The reason, cops say, is pure economics.

"A young man can get $200 to $300 for an iPhone, but if there's gold with a little bit of weight, he can get $700 to $800," Deputy Inspector John Lewis told the community council Thursday. "It's iPhones and gold chains."

Both crimes have surged near subway stops. Women under 30 are prime targets for iPhone thefts, men in their 50s and 60s the mark for chain-snatchers. Police around the city are warning riders to keep their valuables out of sight — particularly with the release of the iPhone 5 Friday.

"Criminals know what these phones look like," Weiss said. "Even if they're not looking to commit a crime, even if it's their day off from being a criminal, they'll put in a little overtime."

The difference, of course, is that while the iPhone can be traced, a chain is virtually irretrievable. Most are pawned off or mailed out to cash-for-gold outfits before victims can finish making a report.

"I'll tell you straight out, you'll never get it back," Weiss said.