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Police in Hongkou winning the battle against pickpockets

    A police crackdown in Hongkou District has led to a dramatic drop in cases of pickpocketing — mainly targeting mobile phones — in the first nine months of the year.

    The number of reported cases fell 56 percent from the same period last year and the number of incidents during the National Day holiday was down 25 percent, district police said yesterday.

    By the end of last month,173 suspected pickpockets from 41 gangs had been arrested. Police said they had stolen phones — mainly iPhones — worth more than 1 million yuan (US$160,000).

    The key haunts of pickpockets in the district are around the Qipu Road fashion street, Hongkou Football Stadium and the Cloud Nine Mall, and Sichuan Road N.

    In the crackdown, police deployed more officers and police assistants on patrols in those areas and installed more high-definition surveillance cameras, officials said at a ceremony yesterday in which 60 phones were returned to their owners who lost them in the first half of the year.

    In recent years, police have also targeted pregnant and lactating women, who accounted for about 70 percent of all pickpockets caught in 2014 and 2015.

    “It was a big headache for us,” said Chen Li, head of the street crime investigation squad of the Hongkou criminal police.

    Previously, such women had usually been released on bail because of their condition, but they often continued to steal while on bail.

    But in April last year, police introduced a new strategy. Although the law allowed police to force such women to live in certain places and under surveillance, there were not enough facilities to house and care for them.

    So, in cooperation with the district health watchdog, two wards at the maternity and children’s hospital were re-purposed to house them.

    “The two wards can accommodate 10 women at the same time, and 35 women have gone through the wards since April last year,” Chen said.

    “This has to a large extent reduced the number of such suspects among all pickpockets.”

    The women are released from the hospital after a court rules on their cases, he said.

    Shared bikes targeted

    But as police make progress in some areas, they warn that users of shared bikes are now increasingly becoming a target.

    “The bike riders take out their phones to scan codes on the bikes without taking notice of suspicious people around, and before they ride away they simply slip the phones into their pockets or drop them into their bags,” Chen said.

    Criminals often work in pairs on motorcycles — one doing the snatching and the other controlling the bike and keeping a lookout for plain clothes officers.

    Li Yonghong, a woman whose phone was stolen at a Metro station in April and which was returned at yesterday’s event, told Shanghai Daily her son found his iPhone had been stolen last month when he got home on a shared bike.

    “He put his phone in his bag after unlocking a shared bike outside a gym on Dongbaoxing Road, but didn’t notice the phone was gone until he got home,” she said.

    Police advise people to report thefts immediately.