iPhone bar thefts have sent Village crime rate soaring

Brendan Kirkpatrick, head bartender at The Village Tavern, poured a drink next to a patron’s phone left carelessly on the bar top. Photo by Paul Bufano
Brendan Kirkpatrick, head bartender at The Village Tavern, poured a drink next to a patron’s phone left carelessly on the bar top. Photo by Paul Bufano

BY PAUL BUFANO  |    After steadily decreasing for the past eight years, crime is soaring in the Sixth Precinct, which covers Greenwich Village and the West Village. Between January and February, the number of crimes reported to police rose 33 percent, compared to the same period a year ago.

According to police, a wave of thefts committed against people at bars and nightclubs is chiefly responsible for the increase. Criminals are stealing cell phones — especially the popular iPhone, because of its marketability and high selling price.

There have been 172 reported cases of grand larceny this year to date, compared to 124 last year, an increase of 39 percent.

Deputy Inspector Brandon del Pozo, the Sixth Precinct’s commanding officer, said these crimes are mostly happening in the Meatpacking District from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m.

“The department is attacking the situation from every possible direction,” del Pozo said. “We’re using video cameras to track down known criminals, and our officers have stopped suspects at nightclubs and found up to five stolen phones and hundreds of dollars of cash on them. The challenge is people are going out to have a good time, but are being careless with their property because they assume the area is safe.”

But felony assaults are on the rise as well. This year to date, victims reported 22 assaults, compared to 10 during the same period one year ago.

The increase in assaults can in part be attributed to an incident on MacDougal St. where in a five-minute span a group of seven youths were assaulted with bats, del Pozo said.

In the same period of time, there have also been two rapes, compared to none last year.

“But these aren’t the violent acts you normally associate the word with,” del Pozo said. “One included a younger woman who took narcotics with an older man and passed out. And then when the woman woke up, she said that she had been raped.”

Speaking after the meeting, del Pozo warned of the dangers of these types of incidents.

“The type of violence of sexual assault by incapacitation is just as real as the threat of a stranger lurking in the shadows. People need to be aware of their surroundings both on the street and in situations with friends and acquaintances.”

Dave Poster, head of the volunteer anticrime Christopher St. Patrol, said that as bad as crime is now, it will only get worse as the weather gets warmer.

“Criminals are just opportunists,” Poster said. “It’s just like on the train when a criminal is watching you on your phone, and then waits until the last second for the door to close to run off with it. Also, there’s so many tourists here that aren’t used to the threat of such crimes, so they’re often taken advantage of.”

In an effort to deter criminals, the Police Department has installed surveillance cameras in busy nightlife areas to identify and pursue known criminals. Police have also set up sting operations at businesses known to buy stolen phones, including Crazy Fantasy Tattoo on Sixth Ave.

“It’s still a major problem, but I love the idea of installing more cameras in and around bars just like the rest of Manhattan,” Poster said. “In setting them up, you may not be able to prevent a crime, but you sure will be able to go on after them.”

Another way that police have been dealing with the problem is by posting warning signs in bars to alert patrons of the threat.

Brendan Kirkpatrick, head bartender at The Village Tavern, at 46 Bedford St., said that the problem comes down to people making careless mistakes.

“I hear stories all the time of young people just trying to have a good time, but who get their phones stolen because they were left unattended,” Kirkpatrick said. “You can’t leave your phone out even for a second because there will always be people with sticky fingers. Even here where there’s three bouncers it’s just never going to stop.”

Chelsea resident Chuck Roseman, 30, was having a drink at The Village Tavern with his phone on the bar, even though his previous phone was recently stolen.

“I went to the bar across the street with my phone, but went home without it,” Roseman said. “I was sitting at the bar with my phone out like I usually do, and after turning around for a second it was gone. I admit it was terrible, but it’s not going to stop me from keeping my phone out — if anything I’ll just be more alert.”

Even though the community has seen an increase in crime, the police have been making more arrests, del Pozo said.

“We’re keeping right up with the criminals, but I think this trend will continue to plague our community as long as these phones cost so much,” del Pozo said. “In the ’80s criminals would break into homes for a VCR player that’s now worth $50, but today they can just take a cell phone and it’s worth $500. At the end of the day, people just need to be careful because these guys will hurt you to get what they want and not think twice about it.”