Every morning the San Francisco Police Department sends the press a recap of crimes committed across the city the previous day. With only five to ten incidents listed, it’s not a full summary of what went down, but it does offer a peek into the dark underbelly of San Francisco. And every single day, there is at least one cell phone theft listed. In this morning’s recap, for example, police noted that on Thursday evening, a 30-year-old woman on the bus at Kearny and Market streets was attacked by four youth who beat her up and then stole her phone.
In a city where everyone has either had their phone stolen or knows someone who has, this type of story is sadly not uncommon. (Full disclosure: I’ve had three iPhones stolen — one in a traumatic mugging at Sixth and Market, one at the Knockout, and one at Lucky 13.)
But data released by SFPD this week states that despite their tendency to list them in their crime recaps, smartphone robberies have actually declined in the past few years. Citywide, the numbers of reported robberies dropped 22 percent from 2015 to 2016, and 50 percent since 2013.
This is heartening news, but it’s important to note that in the years prior to 2013, smartphone theft was at a crazy high. Consumer Reports states that between 2012 and 2013, nationwide smartphone theft nearly doubled, going from 1.6 to 3.1 million victims in just one year. Many of these phones were traded on the black market — drug cartels apparently trafficked stolen smartphones out of the United States.
There are many reasons one can come up with for the drop in thefts — the economy is doing fairly well, unemployment is low, and smartphones have become more prevalent across all social classes. But San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón claimed this week that the reason theft has really declined is a law that was instituted nearly three years ago. Gascón and Senator Mark Leno drafted SB 692 — the Smartphone Theft Prevention Act — in 2014, which requires all smartphones sold in the state of California to come pre-equipped with “theft-deterring technological solutions which can render stolen devices useless.” For example, iPhones have a kill switch, that if activated, can turn a stolen device into a completely unusable brick, eliminating its resale value. The law went into effect on July 1, 2015.
“The prevalence of these crimes made it evident early on that enforcement and prosecution were not sufficient tools to reduce the violence on our streets,” Gascón says. “Because of this hard-fought legislation, stealing a smartphone is no longer worth the trouble, and that means the devices we use every day no longer make us targets for violent crime.”
The decline is unequivocally good news, regardless of the reasons, but we’re not in the clear yet: Reports indicate that U.S. consumers spend $30 billion on lost and stolen smartphones each year, and phone theft certainly still takes place on the regular in San Francisco. We recommend you be cheered by this news, but not any less-cautious. Don’t leave your purse unaccompanied while dancing to ’90s hip hop at the Knockout like I did back in 2014: it doesn’t end well.