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Buffalo police see spike in cellphone robberies

The Buffalo teenager had just finished a workout. It was 10 p.m. on Monday, and the boy – who recently turned 16 – decided to go for a walk to cool off.

He grabbed his phone and popped in his headphones. Music for the walk.

While he strolled down the 800 block of Parkside Avenue, a 1999 Mercedes Benz pulled up. A man in his late teens got out of the driver’s side and asked for directions. The teen had never heard of the street he was asking about.

A little while later, the car pulled up again. This time a man got out of the passenger’s side.

He pointed a black handgun at the teen and told him to empty his pockets. All he had was his iPhone 5s and headphones, so that’s what the robbers got.

While the boy’s father sat with his son at the police station, an officer said it was probably the 75th stolen iPhone report she had taken this summer.

Phones have become a hot-ticket item in Buffalo, with robbers collecting them nightly and reselling them – either informally, on Craigslist or at delis and convenience stores that buy used phones.

“We have seen a spike, and we’re addressing it,” said Buffalo Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda. “People should be aware of their surroundings.”

Derenda said the most frequent type of phone robbery has been occurring with robbers running up to victims, quickly grabbing their phones and taking off. “They’re not stopping for conversation,” he said.

Tuesday night, four people filed police reports saying they had been robbed of their cellphones – two on the East Side, one on the West Side and one in the northwest section of the city. And it’s likely some people don’t even go to police.

Often young men commit the robberies. The two who robbed the teen on Parkside, who were later arrested, are Robert Riggs, 17, of Dick Road, Depew, and Emile Blackman, 18, of Rounds Avenue.

A boy, approximately 15 years old, ran up from behind the woman, snatched her phone from her hand and threw her to the ground near Ashland Avenue.

He sprinted to a friend, who was waiting by the park with two bicycles, and they rode away westbound on Lafayette Avenue.

A co-worker told McGuire it was the fourth time she had heard of someone being robbed in that area recently.

If someone does attempt to rob you, the safest course is to do what the teen on Parkside Avenue did – hand over your possessions – he turned his pockets out to show the robbers – and be as attentive to details as possible. Then call police right away.

For iPhone users, it also is smart to download the Find My iPhone application, which tracks devices using GPS technology.

You can check your phone’s location on another iOS device like an iPhone, iPad or iPod touch.

The teenage boy who was robbed on Parkside memorized the car’s license plate number – he repeated it to himself over and over – and also had a description of the vehicle and remembered what the robbers looked like.

He gave all that information to a police officer, who, while interviewing him, received word via walkie-talkie that another robbery in the area had been committed in virtually identical fashion.

With the information he provided, police were able to find the car, where the possessions of the other person who had been robbed – a wallet and, yes, another cellphone – were sitting in plain view.

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