From Sgt. Jennifer S. Ross, Decatur Police Department spokeswoman:
The Decatur Police Department is in the process of investigating the robbery of three Decatur High School students for their iPhones as they left last Friday night’s football game.
Identifying and locating the suspects is a top priority for Police Department staff. Assistance and cooperation are being provided by a sketch artist from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation as well as the City Schools of Decatur, Marta Police, DeKalb County Police, Atlanta Police and area school resource officers.
“No one wants these incidents stopped more than the City Commission and the City of Decatur Police Department,” said Mayor Jim Baskett. “We are deeply concerned about the incidents and this type of activity is not welcome in our community.”
The robberies from Friday night do not appear to be related to the Wednesday incident involving the robbery of a Renfroe Middle School student.
Chief Mike Booker reports that, “a total of fifteen officers were on duty in the area during the time of Fridaynight’s robberies. This included the standard six officers at Decatur High School for the football game.
"In addition, according to our operating procedure, as the game was ending, the on-duty shift was notified and they had responded to the area around the school, as well as the bicycle patrol officer from the Square. There was additional law enforcement staff in the area that was part of security for the Decatur Book Festival. The Decatur Police Department and City Schools of Decatur will continue to work together to put even more safety precautions into effect for future games.”
At the conclusion of the football game on Friday night, officers were dealing with common crowd control issues such as groups of students yelling “fight” and running when generally there is no fight. Due to the nature of the robberies, there were also reporting delays and some of the initial location and type of call information provided to the officers was inaccurate which made it more difficult to respond. The last robbery occurred approximately an hour after the game ended as a group of students returned back to the area around the high school after eating in the downtown area.
In two of the three robberies that occurred Friday night, students were approached and asked for the time before the robbery. The Police Department has also received a report from another student who stated he left the game and was approached by two males who asked for the time and then followed and questioned him about his phone. The student left the area without further incident.
The students who encountered the robbery suspects reported they did not recognize them as fellow Decatur students.
“Effective police work and investigations take time,” stated City Manager Peggy Merriss.
“To secure the probable cause needed to make arrests and prosecute a case, police officers and investigators must take a methodical, deliberate and time consuming approach. Regretfully, it bears little resemblance to the crime shows we see on television. As much as we would like to, we cannot always release detailed information to the public regarding ongoing investigations. Frequently arrests may occur in a different jurisdiction and a long time after the initial report.”
Cell phone robberies are a nationwide problem because high end cell phones can very easily be turned into cash and cell phones are not automatically traceable. Intelligence in the law enforcement community suggests these phones are often sold to “fencing” operations and sent out of the country based on the international demand for iPhones and similar high-end electronics.
Thieves are simply looking for opportunities where they can find someone with an iPhone and take it with little resistance. These crimes are not predictable and are usually completed in less than 30 seconds.
To try and limit possible opportunities, the following is suggested:
- Do not walk and talk/text on your phone as it distracts you from being aware of your surroundings and it shows potential suspects that you have a phone.
- Currently a common scam is to approach and ask for the time to get you to pull out your phone. If you are approached, followed or questioned about your phone, leave the area and get to a safe location or go to the closest, trusted adult and call police immediately.
- If you own a smart phone, research what applications are available and how they work and download the application now. Tracking applications must be downloaded to the phone prior to the theft.
- Walk in groups but still remain alert.
- If you are approached by a robbery suspect demanding your phone, cooperate and give them the phone. No phone or item or object is worth jeopardizing your safety.
If you are a victim of a robbery:
- Immediately report the incident to law enforcement.
- Be as clear as possible about exactly where the incident occurred and what happened.
- Provide as much descriptive information as possible to include clothing type and colors, hairstyles and any items being carried by suspects.