A stolen iPhone 4 tracked down with Google 'Latitude'
Emily Kitson (pictured right), thought her iPhone 4 was gone forever when it was stolen from beneath a cash register while she was at work.
Her partner, Josh, was beginning to think so too after dealing with what he said was an unhelpful police officer.
On Saturday May 21 this year, Ms Kitson, 19, had been working at a lolly store at Broadmeadows Shopping Centre in Victoria.
“It was just like a normal Saturday and I had my phone underneath the till where everyone else leaves their phone,” Ms Kitson said.
During the day she served a man she described as being in his 30s or 40s who “distracted both of the staff and paid for his lollies and left”. Immediately after serving him, though, another man came up to Ms Kitson, she said, and told her that he saw the man she just served steal her phone.
“I checked and … it was gone, so I went and got the security guard and they sort of chased after him.”
After waiting about an hour, Ms Kitson said she was told by security that the man who stole her phone had got away in a taxi but that they had imagery on CCTV footage of him stealing it.
Tracking app discovered
Following the iPhone theft, Ms Kitson said she called Josh, who remembered installing “Google Latitude” on to her phone, a location-aware app that lets authorised friends track where someone’s phone is. The app uses GPS, wi-fi and mobile phone towers to determine a phone’s location.
Luckily for Ms Kitson, Josh was an authorised friend. “I completely forgot about it,” she said.
After realising the app was installed, Ms Kitson said Josh told her he had tracked the phone “to a place about a kilometre from the shopping centre”. The location was constantly updating.
With CCTV footage available for police to obtain from Broadmeadows Shopping Centre and the Google Latitude app pinpointing the phone to a suburban house, Emily and her partner believed they had some hope in retrieving it with the help of police.
But Ms Kitson said the police officer she and Josh spoke to at Broadmeadows police station was unhelpful to deal with. “I told them everything that I had, I gave them a description, I said that we had tracked [the thief] to an address and that it was still updating and that I had him on video doing it,” Ms Kitson said.
But the police officer she spoke to “wasn’t very nice”, she said.
“He didn’t seem to be very interested in what we were saying. I don’t know if it was because we were young. [But] he sort of gave me the impression that I was lying [and] he said that [he didn't] understand how something like [this could] happen.”
Despite this, Ms Kitson said the officer wrote down the information she gave him on a notebook and said that he would send a report to her by Tuesday.
“I was a bit disheartened considering how much we had,” she said. “I figured [the information I gave them] would be enough for them to actually do something. I didn’t think that I would get my phone back – but at the very least maybe the [thief] would get charged because I heard from people within the shopping centre that he was the common person there that stole a lot of stuff.”
Case chased up
Josh “was pretty upset” about the officer’s effort, Ms Kitson said. “So he sort of just started chasing it up and ringing up and seeing if it had been reported.”
In doing so, she said he “found out that the guy that I had spoken to at the police station had gone on … leave and hadn’t even reported the incident”.
“It wasn’t even reported yet, which was the very least that we would expect,” Ms Kitson claimed, which led her partner to continue to call police, checking up on the case.
“He just kept talking to people and they just kept stuffing him about and saying ‘You’re just going to have to wait it out,’” she said.
What made it worse for the pair was that the phone was not insured.
Ms Kitson understood there were “more important crimes out there” than a stolen iPhone but believed that with the information she had the case could be closed fairly quickly.
“All the time that this was happening … the phone was updating the address. And that was horrible because I could see that [a] person had my phone but there was nothing that I could do about it.
“I wasn’t about to go to their address and say ‘Give me back my phone.’”
The phone had even made its way to a nearby Catholic girls’ school, Josh said.
Police complaint made
After dealing with police for a number of days, Josh took the case to the Victoria Police Conduct Unit. “The police were not helping us at all,” Ms Kitson said.
After her partner communicated with the unit a number of times, the officer who the couple first dealt with told Josh he had sent a squad car to the address where the Google software had located the phone, only to find the address did not exist, Ms Kitson said.
“So Josh went on Google Maps and printed out pictures of the house. He found a real-estate listing of it to prove that it was a real house. I don’t know what [the police] were looking at.”
They then went to the police station to explain how the Google Latitude software worked and officers were given several photos Josh had of locations to which the phone had been tracked.
“We were taking screenshots every time it updated,” Ms Kitson said.
Ten days after the phone was stolen, Josh received a call he wasn’t expecting.
“One morning we had a call saying that [the police] had gone to [a] house at 12 o’clock at night and gotten my phone,” Ms Kitson said. “Apparently it was a 14-year-old girl who had it.”
Ms Kitson said the police informed her the girl had bought the phone for about $80 from a man who they believed stole it from the shop.
The man had apparently taken the iPhone directly to the girl after he stole it, Ms Kitson said police told her.
She described how the girl had left a number of text messages on the phone that indicated the girl knew the phone had been stolen. An online instant messenger program - MSN - was also left signed in.
“I was very shocked that I got my phone back; I wasn’t expecting it at all.”
Now Ms Kitson has the girl’s phone number saved in her contacts under “Idiot Who Bought A Stolen iPhone”. The number was made available to Ms Kitson as the girl had sent messages to her friends with the new number she presumably got from buying a new SIM card for the iPhone to work.
“They left messages on there, texting everyone saying they got a new phone but ‘I can’t tell you where from’.”
Ms Kitson said she read many of the messages on the phone, as it was her property, but “didn’t do anything mean – though I probably could have”.
There were also a number of new purchased apps on the phone.
Victoria Police statement
Victoria Police said it did not immediately investigate the matter due to a staff member being ill and incorrect information provided by Emily. Four days after the initial complaint police said officers went to the address provided as the location of the phone but the address did not exist.
“The investigator was able to determine the correct address, a search warrant was applied for and this was then executed on 30 May resulting in the recovery of the phone,” a Victoria Police spokeswoman said.
Police said the investigation was ongoing and a person had been interviewed and released without charge. The spokeswoman said the Ethical Standards Department was aware of the victim’s concerns over the timeliness of the police response but defended the officers’ actions. They needed to take account for competing priorities and also had to wait for warrants to be granted.
“Victoria Police is satisfied this matter was investigated thoroughly and, within the competing context of policing priorities, a good result was achieved,” the spokeswoman said.
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