Decatur Police Provide More Details on Post-Football Game iPhone Thefts, Reactions from City Leaders

The Decatur Police Department just sent along this update…

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 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.”

Resolution of last Wednesday’s theft of an I-Phone from a Renfroe Middle School student is expected within the next several days.  At that time it is expected that additional information related to that case will be released.  The robberies from Friday night do not appear to be related to the Wednesday incident.

Chief Mike Booker reports that, “a total of fifteen officers were on duty in the area during the time of Friday night’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.

33 thoughts on “Decatur Police Provide More Details on Post-Football Game iPhone Thefts, Reactions from City Leaders”

  1. From above:
    “Provide as much descriptive information as possible to include clothing type and colors,”

    I noticed in the initial report from Friday that one of the victims gave a detailed description of a suspect”s shoes. I think that’s smart because it’s something the criminal is likely to be seen in again. Plus, if you are faced with this type of hold-up and can’t get a good look at the perp, or are hesitant to do so out of fear of agitating the gunman, a good look at their shoes is probably easy to get.

      1. Yeah, but they’ll be proud to be wearing them and wear them everywhere, at least until they steal another pair.

  2. High schoolers received the following email:

    By now you’ve probably heard that three students were robbed on Friday night after the football game. Over the past few months, the City of Decatur has seen an increase in armed robberies of homes and pedestrians. The most common target of these robberies has been cell phones. The Decatur Police Department would like to remind you to mindful of your surroundings at all times and to remember a few safety tips to help prevent you from becoming a victim.

    Walk in groups whenever possible
    Avoid secluded and dimly lit areas
    Do not walk with earbuds in your ears
    Keep your cell phones out of sight when not in use

    From what I’ve heard, I believe that you take these precautions. In each instance on Friday night, the vicitim was asked for the time, causing them to look at their cell phone. Please be mindful of that kind of behavior from strangers. I know many of you like to walk with friends; please stick together.

    We are working on adding lighting and security after hours. We are also talking about identifying specific pick up locations. If you ever see anything or anyone at DHS that causes you discomfort, please bring it to the attention of a teacher or administrator so we can investigate.

    I was shocked and saddened by this attack on our school community.
    Please stay strong and look out for each other.

    Lauri McKain
    Decatur High School | Principal

    1. Ya know, my favorite thing about this is the angle it takes. It not a letter to parents but to students, with a clear message that’ll remain of value for the whole of their lives: You must play an active role in your own safety and security.

      Obviously the adults of the community must take the lead in grappling with this issue, establishing boundaries and protocols for our kids, and working to solve and prevent crime, but anytime something having to do with high schoolers furthers the idea of them doing something for themselves rather than having adults do it for them, I feel a lot more hopeful about the future.

      1. I’m with ya Scott. This was excellent and well communicated on DHS’s part.

        This is a bit off topic, but once we get all this robbery at gunpoint stuff sorted out, we need a lot more parents letting kids who are mature enough navigate the world on their own a bit (of course, with guidance and restriction as necessary), particularly in high school. I have heard more than one college professor complain that college students today have no idea how to tend to their studies or their personal/social lives because their parents have filtered and handled everything for them, even in high school.

        I’m not advocating turning everyone loose without any guidelines or consequences. I also know that there are kids who have substantial academic issues and need extra guidance. However, there comes an age when most mommies (daddies do not seem to engage in this as much) need to stop making playdates and doing/closely monitoring homework for their kids. That age is definitely reached by the teen years.

        At the same time, we need to see some more effectiveness on the part of COD cops. Looks like they are getting it together though and I appreciate that. I hope we see results.

        1. I agree Sarahph. The worse thing that can happen because of this is to lock everyone away to keep them safe from the bad guys. We need MORE good guys on the street. MORE people around to help look out for each other. MORE teenagers learning how to navigate in urban settings. Granted, knowing how to navigate doesn’t insulate you from the bad guys, but an active street is much safer than a dark quiet one.

        2. I couldn’t agree more. But for this to be successful, you need to start early when they are small.

          My kids began making their own breakfast and getting their own drinks when they were 4. When they tell me they are thirsty or hungry, I tell them that they can get it themselves. While they still need to ask permission, they are learning early that they can do things for themselves. They have the opportunity to fail in a safe environment, with the only penalty being that they have responsibility to clean up their mistakes.

          As my daughter is now in second grade, I have been pleasantly surprised to see that she is taking initiative to set up her own play dates with friends. While the parents get involved on logistics, she initiates it by asking her friend for her phone number and then calling them from the home phone.

  3. I think this is a near-flawless response. And I really appreciated the letter from Dr. Edwards (being communicated via the schools) outlining the enhancements for student safety and the community meeting tomorrow night at the high school.

  4. I am excited for improved lighting. I recall a few people poo-pooing the new lights along Howard. Georgia Power did put too many up, but I welcome better lighting. I jog near the school and it can be really dark. I hope they add lights along the PATH near the DQ.

    1. It can be dark walking from the upper parking lot down to the back parking lot or to the front of the school. So lights are a good idea.

    2. Notes on lighting and crime from Light Pollution Abatement Site:

      “Although there is an overwhelming view that all-night lighting prevents crime, crime data do not show a strong relationship between lighting and crime rate.”

      ” Responsible illumination can enhance surveillance – which does have an impact on crime and safety. Light can have an impact on crime only if someone is likely to be watching. … too bright of a light may deter surveillance and actually aid criminal activity.

      So, “security” lights do not replace human vigilance. “Security” lights can create a false sense of security, and poorly designed “security” lights can obscure criminal activity, both of which may ultimately be detrimental to a person’s safety.”

      “Instead of dusk-to-dawn “security” lights, use motion-sensor activated lights. Motion sensor lights enhance surveillance by drawing attention to trespassers. This is the same logic as the car alarm or barking dog-the sensor turns lights on to call attention to a potential problem and to startle the intruder. Be sure to aim the sensor downward to guard only the area the lights illuminate.”

  5. in the Julian household we’ve been practicing this scenario:

    suspicious character: excuse me, can you tell me the time?

    Julian child: why of course, good sir, let me look . . .
    [reaches into backpack, and pulls out a snub nosed revolver]
    . . . looks like it’s time for you to buy a watch.

    suspicious character: cheerio!

    Julian child: cheerio!

    1. Snub nose revolvers are horribly inaccurate past about 5 feet. Please teach your young’uns to use a real gun so they don’t accidentally shoot an innocent bystander.

      1. yeah, we ran the numbers and have instructed them to skootch a little closer if the target steps beyond the effective firing perimeter.

        larger firearms in their backpacks are out of the question though as we found they tended to crush the spawn’s cheese puffs—spawn don’t like no cheesy dust.

  6. The armed robbers in SUVs like to use the “I need some directions” line on their victims. That’s what happened with the young man in the East Lake Y parking lot a couple of weeks ago. There was also some thug in the back seat of the car yelling “Shoot him”. Smart kid threw his phone into the car and ran. Tell your kids that in these days of smart phones there’s very little reason for somebody to ask them for directions and they should probably head for the hills when that happens.

  7. Suggest the new standard response to any request that would ordinarily cause you to pull out a smart phone (time, directions, can I borrow your phone to call my mom…) should be “Dude, I left my phone at home! Haven’t you heard about all these armed robberies in Decatur?!?!”

    1. This response has me giggling. I’m not sure if teen thugs have a sense of humor; they are probably concrete thinkers. But if we’ve got to be under siege from adolescent gunmen, we might as well have some fun with it.

    1. Second hand: Superintendent and DHS principal spoke. More of a police than school briefing. Reiterated good advice that we’ve seen posted here and in emails from schools. New info: There might have been an aborted 4th incident Friday night. There might be footage of suspects from Marta video. No word on whether more lighting will be added around DHS. No Q&A period.

      1. We did discuss lighting at the meeting last night. We met with Georgia Power yesterday and they will be adding a light on the back side of the campus, where one walks from the lower to the upper parking lot. And, lighting will be added in the front of the campus, where one walks down from the upper lot towards the front of the main building. We also are addressing some overgrown bushes that were blocking the existing lighting. Once the new lights are added, we will review the improvements and decide if we need to add more to other areas.

        1. Re more lighting at high school: this is fantastic, thank you, and I apologize that my source of info was inaccurate. Evidently listening skills are still under development.

    2. A video of the meeting will be placed on the CSD website on the safety information page under the “Inside CSD” tab. We will also post the comments/questions from the index cards on this page. Answers to comments/questions will be posted at a later date.

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