“Apple Picking” on the Civic Center Muni Platform

On Friday, January 17, I was “robbed” of my cell phone on the Civic Center Muni platform around 11:40 PM.

Okay, I went to law school, so I know I wasn’t “robbed” according to the legal definition (no use of force against my person) but my iPhone was stolen from right out under me.

I left my friend’s birthday party and was on my way back to the Sunset, via the Civic Center Muni station. Lauren and I waited on the outbound platform. It was going to be 8 minutes until the next “N” train, so I did what I always do to burn time: handstands.

I took off my jacket and removed my phone from my pocket, placing it on top of the jacket on the round bench right next to Lauren. I did a handstand and when I stood up, there was a large woman sitting on the bench next to my jacket. And Lauren.

Moments later a man walked up to me and asked me if he was on the right platform to get to the Castro. I told him yes and guided him no more than 4 feet away to the large Muni route sign. I pointed out all the different routes that would take him from Civic Center to the Castro. Lauren joined us a minute later and offered another suggestion. He thanked us and we walked back to the bench.

That’s when I discovered my phone was gone.

I won’t lie, I freaked out. I triple checked all my pockets, and then started questioning everybody on the platform. Okay, I wasn’t exactly questioning, it was more of a questioning with fervor.

“Hey, where’s my phone? Have you seen my phone? Seriously guys, where’s my phone? Who took my phone? Somebody had to have seen SOMETHING!” The six people all looked blankly at me, shaking their heads. Nobody was going to help me or admit to taking my phone.

Lauren started calling the phone, but because it was on SILENT, we couldn’t hear it.

I stormed up the stairs to the attendant in the booth and told her what was happening downstairs.

“I just had my phone stolen on the Muni platform less than two minutes. Whoever took it is still down there. Can you run back the security cameras to see who took it?”

The woman looked up from her book and told me (in so many words) that the video cameras are not recording, they are simply transmitting the image they see at the time. There was essentially nothing I could do with it.

“So wait… if I was punched in the face and had my phone forcibly taken from me, you wouldn’t be able to do anything about?”

“Yes.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? What is the point of having security cameras if they don’t do anything? And what exactly are here for?”

It was obvious. She was phoning it in. She didn’t care that my expensive phone was taken. That would require work that she didn’t want to do. (I’m so glad a few months ago she went on strike to get paid more money. She really deserves it.)

As I was making it known to the Muni worker my dismay with the situation, I noticed the large woman exiting the muni station behind me. It wouldn’t have mattered if I tried to stop her, there’s nothing I could have done.

It was shortly after this moment that the phone was turned off and our calls went straight to voicemail.

I stormed back down to the platform and again, asked if anyone had seen my phone or seen who had taken it. The “N” train pulled up and I reluctantly/angrily/dramatically got on.

Using Lauren’s phone, I called the non-emergency SFPD sunset station. The woman on the phone explained to me that it is primarily my fault for “leaving my items unattended.” Once we got past that juicy nugget of justice, she proceeded to tell me there was really nothing that she could do to help me. She recommended that I call “311” and file a claim with Muni. When I expressed my dismay at their lack of action, she recommended I “speak to my supervisor.”

“I don’t know what you mean. I’m a civilian, I don’t have a supervisor.” I responded.

“You vote, don’t you?” She responded.

“Wait, your answer to getting my phone back is to VOTE? Are you kidding me right now?” Obviously this wasn’t going anywhere, so I (think I) thanked her for her time and hung up.

When I get home, I called 311 and filed out a complaint. He said that the woman in the booth was just “lazy” and the cameras in the muni station do record. Unfortunately, since MLK day is on Monday, they won’t be able to address my report until Tuesday. In the meantime, I activated my “Find My Phone” application, locking the phone with this message, “This phone has been reported STOLEN. Reward offered. Please contact the number below to avoid police action.” Hopefully that scares some sense into the person with my phone… or the person they are trying to sell it to. (Purchasing stolen property is a crime, thanks Law School!)

Apparently this type of thing is called “Apple Picking,” where there’s some sort of diversion set up and another person will swoop in and steal your phone. Word on the street is that Civic Center is infamous for this type of crime. These phones apparently end up in some bodega on 7th street. The police are well aware of this but aren’t chomping at the bit to help out.

I don’t know if the “lost” man was in on it or not, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from this, it is not to trust anyone, they might be out to steal your stuff.

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