Banks Used To Be Thieves' Target Of Choice, But Have Been Replaced -- With A Recent Deadly Consequence For The Boys In Blue

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Banks used to be a favorite target for criminals in New York City. Now that target has been replaced by, of all things, cellphone stores.

The NYPD, however, has a plan to fight back, CBS2’s Tara Jakeway reported Tuesday.

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Pulled from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives evidence vault, smartphones and tablets are part of the inventory confiscated by a special task force.

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When asked where they come from, Andrew Boss, the ATF’s group supervisor, said, “a robbery pattern of cellphone stores in the New York City area.”

His task force that has teamed up with the NYPD to combat this growing theft trend.

“We have a lot more resources and time and the federal laws to prosecute these cases,” Boss said.

NYPD Det. Brian Simonsen (credit: CBS2)

Cases like the recent botched cellphone store robbery that led to the death of NYPD Det. Brian Simonsen, cases CBS2 has covered so many of in recent months, with surveillance cameras capturing instances throughout the city of armed bandits breaking into shops and making off with cellphones.

“They can get a pretty good amount of money when they resell them. Whether it’s on the street or they make it overseas,” Boss said.

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NYPD statistics show between 2014 and 2017, cellphone thefts actually declined, which could be attributed to the growing number of cases that are taken on and solved by the NYPD/ATF Joint Task Force, which operates out of a small office in the Bronx.

NYPD Lt. Keith Smith said these cases account for 75 percent of the task force’s daily work. That includes educating cellphone owners and equipping retailers with the tools to track these criminals, like through the use of bait phones.

“As soon as he leaves the store that bait phone would be activated and is immediately tracked,” Lt. Smith said.

The task force is distributing them to stores in areas throughout the city where there has been an uptick in these crimes, adding the following tips for merchants:

“Keeping track of inventory with serial numbers, huge help,” Smith said. “Cameras that are not high, that are at eye level.”

Merchants are also encouraged to invest in special safes for storing the phones, ones that open after a five-minute delay, deterring the criminals from sticking around for the merchandise.

There are now 20 ATF agents and NYPD detectives working on the task force they call SPARTA. They said they’ve established patterns that are helping them solve more of these cases than ever.

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SPARTA stands for “Strategic Pattern Armed Robbery Technical Apprehension.” Officials said many of the criminals the unit catches in these cases are repeat offenders.