Consider safety before confronting cellphone thieves

  • Article by: EDITORIAL BOARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 2, 2014 - 6:34 PM

Police warn of the risks in taking on criminals.

Split-second instinct kicked in for Mark Andrew last month when he chased the man who swiped his cellphone at a Mall of America coffee shop. As the 63-year-old former Hennepin County commissioner ran after the thief, he was tackled and beaten by two female accomplices.

The beating resulted in the arrests of two teens. Andrew got his phone back after the robber dropped it, but he also suffered multiple abrasions and cuts that required nine stitches.

Andrew responded as many of us would have in similar circumstances. So did the father and son from a large crowd of after-Christmas shoppers who tried to intervene to help the former Minneapolis mayoral candidate.

Without question, the responsibility for any crime lies squarely with the criminal, and Andrew’s assailants deserve the maximum punishment. But in the wake of the high-profile incident, it’s also worth noting that law enforcement officials typically advise civilians to think twice before engaging thugs in these types of cases.

Cellphone thefts are a growing problem nationwide, and thieves have been increasingly violent in some incidents. The Federal Communications Commission reports that nearly one in three U.S. robberies involve phone theft, costing consumers more than $30 billion annually. That’s why it’s essential that cell carriers and manufacturers take steps to make it possible to disable stolen phones.

To that end, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., has asked mobile-phone service companies to provide information that could inform new federal rules on “kill switches’’ and other disabling technologies.

In the meantime, smartphone users need to be aware that they may be targeted by increasingly aggressive thieves — especially if criminals spot cellphone users in public and believe they are vulnerable — and that there are risks in fighting back.

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