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Phone and Bike Thefts Likely to Surge as Weather Warms Up, Police Warn

 Officers from the 77th Precinct walking along Nostrand Avenue this spring.
Officers from the 77th Precinct walking along Nostrand Avenue this spring.
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DNAinfo/Rachel Holliday Smith

CROWN HEIGHTS — As the summer heats up, police are warning residents to watch out for cellphone robbers, bicycle thieves and illegal tow trucks hitting the streets, in a spate of potential increased crime the 77th Precinct plans to combat with a flood of newly assigned beat officers.

At a meeting with the 77th Precinct Community Council Monday night, Deputy Inspector Eddie Lott summed up for residents what crime may look like this summer in Crown Heights.

“As the warm weather is upon us now, our crime shifts,” he said. “We’re starting to see an increase in our robberies and our cellphone snatches, particularly with people coming off the train and in the parks.”

A hot spot is Lincoln Terrace Park at Eastern Parkway and Rochester Avenue, where many “Apple pickers,” or smartphone robbers, were caught last summer, he said. The thieves typically target distracted texters who are so caught up in their phones they can’t even describe the person who stole it, except for the “back of somebody’s head and the bottom of their sneakers,” Lott said.

To deter future robberies, Lott said he’s putting more officers in and around the park, especially in the afterschool hours.

Lott is also adding four new beat officers to patrol the Nostrand Avenue corridor around Eastern Parkway, a busy commercial zone where he’s been getting requests to add officers who know the area well.

“I told them that they’re going to be on these posts fairly steady and their job is to know every business and the majority of the residents that live on that beat,” he said, adding that he recognizes residents’ request to bring back community policing.

“I find that people are very responsive to that uniformed officer and seeing that uniform there. We’re going to try to get back to that, as much as we possibly can.”

Bike thefts are also an increased problem during the summer months, often targeting expensive bikes, Lott said, telling a cautionary tale of a bike thief caught last summer.

“He was walking around with bolt cutters,” he said. “He was going around clipping bicycles and riding them into bike shops” to sell, sometimes nabbing cycles worth $1,000 or more.

In an unusual additional crime threat, Lott said some thieves are getting ahold of tow trucks to steal old-model vehicles to sell for parts.

Cars made in the '80s and '90s are going missing in the area more frequently lately, Lott said, sometimes being hauled off by “less than savory” tow truck companies in the middle of the night.

“I can basically take those vehicles to a demolition person without really having any kind of documentation and get 400 bucks for it,” he said, warning locals to report any tow truck activity they see on residential streets between midnight and 4 a.m.

Overall, police department data shows a slight increase, 8.7 percent, in crime incidences in the 77th Precinct this year when compared to the same time period in 2013.

Burglaries increased 60 percent from 65 incidents in 2013 through May 4 to 105 through that date this year. Grand larceny reports increased 14 percent from 126 in 2013 to 144 this year.

Robberies, however, have gone down 30 percent since last year, from 131 reports to 91. Data on cellphone thefts in the precinct was not immediately known.