Pink Line suspect photo

Chicago police released photos of the suspect in the Pink Line robberies. (February 18, 2013)

CTA riders, this is not the way to ring in the new year. Chicago police issued two separate alerts last week warning riders about recent cellphone thefts on the Red and Pink lines.

Police said a group of men have been snatching electronic devices from riders on trains and platforms between 55th and 95th Streets on the Red Line since early this year.

This weekend, police released a photo of a suspect they say has been using a gun to rob riders of their cellphones on the Pink Line since late last month.

Cellphone theft, especially thefts of iPhones, long has been a problem on the CTA. In 2011, a 17-year-old boy was charged with first degree murder after he allegedly knocked down a 68-year-old woman and killed her as he stole an iPhone at the Fullerton stop.

Thefts, including those of cellphones, were up nearly 16 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, the CTA said. Robberies, which involve force or intimidation, were down 21 percent, according to the agency.

The CTA announced last week it will spend seven months retrofitting older train cars with high-definition cameras that already are on the new rail cars with the aisle-facing seats on the Pink, Green and Red lines.

Cameras across the CTA have helped police identify 14 suspects in 15 cases in the last eight months, the agency said last week.

Riders can do their part as well. Here are some safety tips from Going Public: If you need to use your phone, make sure not to do it by the door, where a rider can snatch it and run into the station. Try to find a place where your back is to the wall, and be aware of your surroundings.

Above all, ask yourself if that call can wait.

Stationary

A weekly dispatch from a CTA station of note

This week: Cottage Grove Green Line

If you're the type of CTA rider who gets anxious waiting eight minutes for a train, the Cottage Grove Green Line stop in Woodlawn is not for you. The train to the Loop runs about every 20 minutes from Cottage Grove during morning rush hour and every 20 minutes from the Loop to Cottage Grove during evening rush hour. The station saw about 423,000 entries last year, up 1 percent from the previous year. These numbers are expected to rise in May, when the CTA shuts down the southern portion of the Red Line to overhaul its track and riders flock to the Green Line. Workers at the Cottage Grove station Monday were making network upgrades for phone lines, CTA Train Tracker displays and the PA system, the CTA said.

Next up: Thorndale Red Line

tswartz@tribune.com | @tracyswartz