High-profile iPhone grab is new hit to metro-area sense of safety

  • Article by: JILL BURCUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 28, 2013 - 7:20 AM

The device made former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew the target for an attack at a Mall of America Starbucks.

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Mark Andrew's iPhone was stolen at the Mall of America on Thursday. When he pursued the thief, he was attacked by the perpetrator's accomplices.

Photo: David Joles, DML - Star Tribune

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Soon after former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew pulled out his iPhone at a crowded Mall of America Starbucks on Dec. 26, he became a victim of a crime that’s become all too common in the Twin Cities: smartphone theft.

Over the fall, a spike in robberies of University of Minnesota students put an alarming spotlight on what law enforcement calls “Apple picking,’’ since Apple makes the phone often pursued by perps. The cutesy name is unfortunate, misleadingly suggesting that the victim is in little danger.

But the attack on the 63-year-old Andrew, a former Hennepin County commissioner, drives home this escalating theft’s public safety risks. When Andrew tried to chase down the thief, he was accosted by the perpetrator’s female accomplices, who beat him with a club. The feisty former politico still managed to detain one of the women until police arrived. Andrew got his iPhone back because the thief apparently dropped it, but he also got nine stitches at Fairview Southdale for his efforts. He was taken to the hospital via ambulance.

The brazen theft further frays the metro area’s sense of security — one already weakened by high-profile crimes on and around the University of Minnesota’s flagship Minneapolis campus. If you can’t sit at a coffee shop at a mall the day after Christmas and feel safe, where can you feel assured that you won’t be a victim of crime in the Twin Cities?

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek has admirably been at the forefront of law enforcement efforts to eliminate the incentive for this type of crime by shutting down the lucrative black market for stolen phones. The shocking attack on Andrew underscores how important these efforts are.

Manufacturers and cell service carriers have dragged their feet when it comes to antitheft measures, though Apple’s new iPhone operating system offers an activation-lock feature. Stopping stolen phones from getting service again would make these devices far less valuable to criminals. If the industry won’t protect its customers, Congress needs to step up and do so.

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