Morristown smart phone theft with happy ending is cautionary tale

By Berit Ollestad

With a mere 10 percent chance of ever seeing my stolen phone again, I decided to begin the arduous, tearful task of trying to re-construct my contact list with no computer backup and no address book to guide me.

I had become one of  “those” people, as the experts say. You start chit-chatting with the clerk at the checkout counter, set down your phone to pay for your purchase, and just like that, it’s gone!

Morristown Detective Teddy Jones. Photo by Berit Ollestad

Morristown Detective Teddy Jones. Photo by Berit Ollestad

Unfortunately, mobile phone theft is becoming more prevalent as these phones increase in value. Although numerous cell phone apps such as Find My Iphone can assist in recovery of phones, thieves are becoming more ingenious in bypassing them and avoiding apprehension.

Time is of the essence when tracking down stolen phones; they often are wiped clean within hours of being stolen and then are re-sold on sites such as Craigslist, or taken into cities such as Paterson or Newark where it is virtually impossible for them to be found.

“On those rare occasions when I can call someone and tell them that their phone has been recovered and we have it here at headquarters, that is the best feeling in the world because I know the importance that that phone holds for person,” said Morristown Police Detective Teddy Jones.

“It has all their personal information and it’s terrifying when you think that all of that information has gotten into the wrong hands. What I always tell people when they have had their phone lost or stolen is to try and tell as many people as you can think of in your contacts that your phone is no longer in your possession and that their personal information may have been compromised.

“I also try and stress to the victim that they need to be more vigilant with their own personal safety. What people often fail to realize with these smartphones is that the thief can go into the GPS mapping applications on these phones and scroll down and not only see where you have been, but can track it usually right back to their homes,” said Jones.

For starters, he said, always remember to lock your phone with a password and change the password frequently.

Applying good old-fashioned detective work, Jones recently returned a stolen phone to a grateful resident– me!

After my initial report was filed, the responding officer said it would come down to the “tale of the tape”–what the merchant’s surveillance video might reveal.

Fortunately, many businesses now have surveillance video, which is paramount in cracking crimes like this. All surveillance systems are not created equal and quality varies dramatically, yet video certainly increases your odds.

Solving crimes often comes down to communication and collaboration. When Detective Jones reviewed the video, the perpetrator looked familiar. He spoke to the individual. Because of his prior dealings with this person, Jones was able to persuade the individual to do the right thing and hand over my phone.  The case now is pending in the courts.

While some people are tempted to retrieve their own phones once they trace its location via Find My Iphone or other apps, police discourage this approach.

Clearly, it is a hassle to replace a cell phone. It’s heart-breaking to lose contacts and photos. Back up your data regularly and save yourself this heartache. This is the lesson I took away from my near-catastrophe.

Raised in Morristown, Jones graduated from Morristown High and is a familiar face in town. This helped him gain the community’s trust during his years as a patrol officer, he said. Now he also serves as the department’s expert on gangs.

“Sometimes there will be people that will only speak to me when there is a problem, because they know me and they know how I operate,” Jones said.

“There are times that I get calls from people in town because they care about their community and they want to report suspicious drug activity or under-age drinking, and I have to ask one of the guys from patrol to go follow up on a tip because they’re out on the streets more than I am and I have so much going on. Then if they come back and report that the tips have some sort of validity, I will investigate further,” he said.

The detective said his office door always is open to the community…and I am glad for that!


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