herald

Wednesday 23 August 2017

Sinead Ryan: It's a very sorry day when we're told to pocket our phones

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Is "try and not get your stuff nicked" really the best advice gardai can come up with to prevent theft?

That seems to be the message from a new 'streetwise' campaign, which launched yesterday. It appears that mobile phones are the most commonly snatched item on our streets, with over 1,000 phones a month being swiped. Such 'snatch and grab' attacks account for a third of all thefts.

In fairness to gardai, they cannot be on every street corner all of the time, especially with pressure on resources. Nonetheless, the advice seems paltry.

The new poster for the campaign urges us to "avoid making calls in public places" and recommends we "conceal valuables". If we must take a call, we're advised to put our back to the wall.

It also suggests there is a strong correlation "between intoxication and thefts", although it doesn't clarify whether the drunk is generally the thief or the victim.

It's all stuff direct from the Department of the Bleeding Obvious, and there seems little in it which reassures city dwellers - by far the most likely victim - what's being done to prevent it.

It's a sorry state of affairs when we're advised that, in a European capital city in 2015, it's not safe to answer a phone call on the street.

What kind of message does it send out to tourists when we appear to put the onus on the victim of crime? Rather than assuring them of the measures we're employing to round up the perpetrators?

While grabbing phones from unsuspecting people while flying by on a bike or running from behind is commonplace, there's been an increase in devices stolen from bars and restaurants where they are left on tables. Organised gangs of street thieves are behind such thefts.

While people should take care of their belongings, it's a little rich to deploy messages to victims about what we should do, rather than telling us what's been done about the problem.

What about a zero tolerance policy for street crime, instead of, for example, one for student rag weeks or for staging too many concerts at Croke Park?

If you're unlucky enough to have your phone nicked you'll know that it's not just the handset that's gone. That's often the least of it.

They can lose treasured photographs, important texts, vital appointments and a vast contacts list built up over years.

The phone may well be insured but you have to jump through hoops to get reimbursed, or shell out hundreds of euro if not.

Either way, it's not a victimless crime, especially if you are a woman.

Late at night, even in a well-lit area perhaps trying to catch the last Luas home, if you suddenly find yourself grabbed from behind, your phone snatched out of your hand and perhaps your bag with it, you will feel completely defenceless without the one item you could use to summon help.

There's a 'kill switch' on some iPhones which renders them useless when remotely activated and likewise, reporting the 15-digit IMEI number (get it by texting *#06#) ensures a phone can't be used, but it's small comfort when the phone is gone.

gangs

Yes, of course we should all back up data, but it's impossible to be completely up to date when your phone doubles as your office.

I also wonder, of the large number of mobile phone thefts in Dublin, how many go unreported because people think the crime won't be taken seriously?

In the absence of a physical attack, how many of those with an uninsured phone just don't bother with the hassle, believing that their name and address will be taken down, but precious little else done?

How many, even though annoyed and shaken, decide it's easier just to get a new phone?

Most Dubliners are careful as they walk the streets, but nonetheless they will welcome the garda advice.

But now and then it would be nice to see some information on the number of phone thieves caught and how authorities plan to rid the streets of these gangs.

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