After cops arrested a Brooklyn teen last spring, an officer at the precinct assured him police would soon return his possessions: house keys, an iPhone and $10 bill folded in its case.

“They said I can get my property back after they run me through [the system] and speak to my mom,” said the 15-year-old, whose name being withheld by THE CITY due to his age and pending case. “I said, ‘Okay, I need my phone.’”

He hasn’t seen the phone since.

The NYPD seized more than 55,000 phones in 2020, city data shows, and returned 60% of them.

And while the number of phones taken was lower than the 90,000 in the previous, pre-pandemic year, so was the percentage given back. About 70% of phones confiscated in 2019 were returned.

It’s never easy for someone to lose a phone under any circumstances.

But children, parents and juvenile justice advocates interviewed by THE CITY say that when a young person’s phone is taken during the pandemic, the toll goes beyond inconvenience and frustration — they’ve lost a lifeline.

And while recent lawsuits and City Council legislation have attempted to accelerate the return of property, many say closed courts and other coronavirus restrictions have made getting phones back harder than ever.

Meanwhile, some lawyers who represent juveniles worry police could be cracking into held cell phones for surveillance as calls questioning the expanding gang and DNA databases rise. They’re also questioning whether phones are always really needed as evidence in most cases they’re confiscated from kids.

“It’s like, you can’t even imagine what the phone has to do with the case. And it’s vouchered as ‘arrest evidence,’” said Nikki Woods of New York County Defender Services.

The past year had already been difficult for the Brooklyn teen. His mother battled COVID-19 and other family members died of the virus. The family’s apartment was damaged, variously, by flood and fire.

Without the phone, life got even harder.

The youth, who has a learning disability, had navigated online classes with the phone and called friends when he needed homework help, his mother said.

Four siblings were now forced to share two devices — stretching their abilities to attend school. And his mother still had to make monthly payments on the confiscated phone, a burden on her home health aide salary.

“This court case just keeps going on. It’s just too much, all of this,” his mother told THE CITY. She finally bought another phone for her son after the family lost a laptop in the fire, adding to her financial challenges.

“Bills and bills and bills,” she said. “I’m going to start crying. It’s the little things that be the big things.”

A missing phone also means extra hardship for children caught up in the juvenile justice system.

“Everything they do they have to do it on the phone,” said Katherine de Zengotita, a senior trial lawyer at New York County Defender Services.

“A child who doesn’t successfully complete programming, therapy, probation monitoring, curfew checks like all this kind of stuff, that child is much more likely to get a jail sentence,” she added.

Read the full article about phone seizures by Eileen Grench at THE CITY.