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Robbers stalk Seattle's light rail passengers

SEATTLE - Passing the time with a phone in hand is costing some commuters dearly aboard light rail. In Seattle's South Precinct, robbers are riding the rails - keeping an eye out for distracted passengers.

"People don't really pay attention too much of who comes in and who goes out, and they are always just looking at their phone," said Linda Doan, who had disembarked at the Othello stop.

The thieves work in teams, according to police. One boards the train looking for potential victims while an accomplice follows in a getaway car. When the victim gets off for their stop, they get mugged a short distance from the tracks, then the crooks drive away.

"There were a few times when I felt that I was personally unsafe," said Tony Le, a daily light rail commuter. Le has never been robbed after riding the train, but he sees the potential on almost every commute.

"I see just a lot of people having their eyes on the phone and not on their surroundings," he says.

Seattle police have identified several robbery hot spots, most of them close to light rail stations.

The South Seattle Crime Prevention Council put out an alert warning people about the troubled areas and urging them to not use electronics on light rail. One regular rider said the request isn't realistic.

"It's just hard to imagine folks not checking their phone on the light rail," said Donna Denina.

The latest SeaStat numbers show robberies up in May and June for South Seattle. However, they remain well below the levels for this time last year. Robbery investigations remain a priority, police said, but there are ways the public can help, too.

"Not everyone's going to look out for each other in this kind of area so it's one's own responsibility to look out for themselves," Le said.

Police have already made arrests in 20 incidents this year, and said they are confronting the problem within current staffing levels and without tapping overtime.

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