Smartphone theft and police response

smartphone theft and police: Phones on cafe table
Phones on cafe table

Since recently coming to understand the high numbers of smartphone theft in Barcelona, the manners in which they’re stolen, and the strategic refusal of Barcelona police to file a theft report without the stolen phone’s serial number, Bob Arno and I returned with a television crew eager to report on our thiefhunting exploits.

Bob and I have done this repeatedly for 15 years, always with more butterflies and apprehension than confidence. We haven’t let a tv crew down yet (but it’s bound to happen). So, with crew in tow, we resumed our research in Barcelona.

First, since many of the stolen smartphones are Apple iPhones, I visited the brand new Apple Store on Placa Catalunya, presuming that some victims would visit in the hope of retrieving their phones’ serial numbers. I was correct, store manager Mario told me, but “only a few per day. And no, Apple won’t help them obtain their serial numbers.” (You’d have to get to the computer with which you sync the phone, open iTunes, go to Preferences, choose the Devices tab, then hover your curser over the name of the device to see a popup that shows its serial number.)

smartphone theft and police: Apple store, Barcelona
Apple store, Barcelona

Next I returned to the police station to ask, are you serious? Really, if my phone is stolen, I can’t file a police report without its serial number? The officer on duty tried deflecting my question: “Do you have insurance?” he asked to each of my questions. I persisted until he confirmed: no serial number, no police report. Yes, you can go home and call in the serial number, but the police will not provide a copy of the police report by mail, fax, or email. What good is that?*

While at the police station, I couldn’t resist questioning the line of visitors waiting to report their thefts. iPhone stolen, iPhone stolen, iPhone stolen, etc., and two morose groups reporting that their accommodations had been burglarized. (One, a group of six Latvian students who lost multiple laptops, phones, and iPods, were devastated because as students, they couldn’t afford to replace them.) The victims kept coming and I couldn’t help but notice that the police station welcome mat was, literally, worn out. Pathetic.

One more question, Officer: this refusal to file a report without the phone’s serial number—is it just in Barcelona, or all of Spain? “All of Spain!” the officer assured me.

smartphone theft and police: Barcelona police station entrance, where the welcome mat is literally worn out.
Barcelona police station entrance, where the welcome mat is literally worn out.

Next, with the RTL tv crew rolling, we traipsed through the Barrio Gotico and Born areas of Barcelona after midnight, swinging a fake iPad. I was terrified for Bob, the carrier and potential victim, due to the reports of violent snatching we’ve recently been hearing. Yet… no takers! We rested and gathered strength on gorgeous tapas and beer, setting out again through the dark lanes and creepy alleys, my brave husband willing to get mugged for television (not for the first time!).

Perhaps we were too large a group (five). Maybe we were just in the right place at the wrong time. Maybe thievery is closed on Monday nights.

Next day, we sat for hours at Cava La Universal, where we’d seen and filmed the clever smartphone thieves. We had a brilliant fake iPhone laid out temptingly on the table—like fresh bait still wriggling.

Immediately the waiter approached and pushed the phone closer to us on the table. “Don’t have it like that,” he warned, “the thieves will get it. They’re very, very fast. They’re very, very good!” We pushed it halfway back and gave him a wink.

smartphone theft and police: Fake iPhone on our cafe table
Fake iPhone on our cafe table

The tv producer and I chatted and people-watched over coffee while I scrutinized humanity. I saw a few “suspects,” pointing them out to the producer. “Look at those two.” I pointed to “white-shoulders” and a pal as they walked away on La Rambla. They hadn’t come close to us. “Thieves, for sure,” I boldly pronounced. The tv producer believed me without evidence. Or maybe she didn’t.

An hour later Bob came to meet us at the cafe with the other producer and the cameraman. Guess who they had with them? “White shoulders” and his pal. And guess who they were? White-shoulders’ pal was the very phone-thief gang-leader I filmed one month ago! (Tattooed “Born to kill.”) This time, his partner, white-shoulders, was only 13 years old. I hadn’t recognized Born-to-kill as he passed by an hour before. I had only pegged him as a probably thief based on his and his partner’s body language and behavior.

smartphone theft and police: Phone thieves with Bob Arno
Phone thieves with Bob Arno

Born-to-kill was in good spirits and willing to talk. Even on camera! He said he hadn’t tried to steal my iPhone because it looked fake. Liar! It looks damn real—in fact its case is real, but has a printed display. And anyway, he’d never came close enough to my table to see the iPhone. He and the child had passed at a distance. Born-to-kill’s name is Florin.

More in on this very soon.

*The benefit of filing a police report is that the theft is officially documented (supposedly), helping to show the government and the public the extent of the problem.

© Copyright 2008-present Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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