City looking to curb rising number of Apple thefts with database

As thefts of Apple products rise in New York, the NYPD and the City Council are thinking differently to curb the surge.

During a hearing of the council’s Consumer Affairs Committee Monday, the NYPD said there were 16,000 thefts of Apple products last year, accounting for 14% of all crimes in the city in 2012.

To curb the trend, the council is mulling a bill that would mandate that all of the city’s pawnshops and resellers share their inventory with the police in an online database. NYPD Deputy Commissioner John Bilich said such a tracking system would make criminals think twice before swiping an iPhone for easy cash.

“A large part of driving the crime down is to create a disincentive to the theft,” he said.

The rash of Apple thefts has grown worse in the last few years not only because iPhones, iPads and Macs are becoming more popular, but also because they have a high resale value, according to Bilich.

“Our experience is that they are the item of choice,” he said, adding that the number of the Apple products are stolen at a higher rate than similar electronics on the market.

City Councilman Dan Garodnick, who chairs the Consumer Affairs Committee, said newer iPhones can be resold for as much as $400 on the secondary market. This year so far, cellphones have been the target of 45% of all robberies in the city. Half of those phones were Apple devices, according to the NYPD.

The NYPD has been increasing its presence in subways to monitor for gadget thieves, but Bilich said the department needs to think even further outside the box.

“When it comes to dealing with this, there is no single thing that works. We need several things,” the commissioner said.

Under Garodnick’s bill, which was requested by the mayor, all of the city’s pawnshops, scrap metal shops and resellers would have to share their inventory with an online database that only the NYPD can access. The owners would have to include the product’s serial number and a photo of the item.

Under current law, the shops already keep a record of their inventory and are required to provide the information to the NYPD without a warrant, but those records aren’t recorded digitally.

Several city shops and other retailers, including eBay, have voluntarily signed up for a national database called LeadsOnline that tracks pawned goods and provides the information to law enforcement agencies.

The NYPD said it has made significant arrests and returned many stolen items through LeadsOnline. Mandating a similar system would benefit consumers, the department said.

Not everyone is on board with the council’s proposal. Groups representing the city’s pawnshops said the bill unnecessarily targets their businesses.

“This proposed legislation appears to be based on the long-standing but misguided notion that pawnbrokers commonly deal in stolen goods and their customers are reprobates,” said Jordon Tabach-Bank, a city pawnbroker and a director of the National Pawnbrokers Association.

Garodnick, however, said the owners need to get with the times and put safety first.

He called the paper tracking system “antiquated.”