Apple iPhones and iPads have become the new must-have item -- for thieves.

Innocent smartphone and tablet owners have increasingly become crime targets, and law enforcement is taking steps to protect them and deal with other assorted acts of crime sparked by Apple's product popularity.

Actually, some iPhone users themselves are also taking steps toward self-protection, such as with products like SmartGuard, an iPhone case packed with pepper spray.

The number of iPhone and iPad theft stories are too many to list, but here's a brief look back at some of the most alarming incidents:

* New York crime wave: The New York Police Department in late September reported 11,447 thefts of Apple products between Jan. 1 and Sept. 23, up 40% from the year-ago period. Meanwhile, other major crimes in New York City rose 4%. PC Magazine quoted a NYPD spokesman as saying: "As if to mirror the market place, thefts of Apple products increased this year as the theft of electronics by other manufacturers decreased."

NYPD responded by sending police offers to outlets selling the iPhone 5 on its debut day, Sept. 21, (as shown at right) to register newly purchased iPhones so that they can be returned to rightful owners if swiped.

* Airport security lapse: ABC News did an investigation into the hundreds of TSA officers who have been arrested for allegedly swiping passengers' items, and operated a sting of its own involving iPads. Most of the TSA officers didn't bite, but one did, and lamely blamed his wife for it after being traced using a free Find My iPhone app.

* iPhone/iPad criminals crash: Thieves crashed a car into an Apple retail store in early September, swept up a bunch of iPhones and iPads and then had trouble getting the car out of the store, according to security tapes released by police.

The early morning robbery was caught by two security cameras in the Apple Store at Promenade Mall, in Temecula, Calif., about 80 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

* iPhone 5 big in Japan: Thieves broke into stores across Japan, including Osaka and Kobe, and stole at least a couple hundred iPhone 5 smartphones in the wee hours before they went on sale in mid-September.

Such pre-iPhone 5 debut thefts weren't contained to Japan, however. Authorities in southern England tried to track down a phone shop employee accused of stealing some 250 iPhone 5 devices six-and-a-half hours before they went on sale.

* Factory tension: Not technically an iPhone/iPad theft situation, but employees shown at right stand outside a store which is damaged during a riot at a Foxconn factory in the Taiyuan, Shanxi province of China during early morning on Sept. 24. A factory owned by iPhone assembler Foxconn resumed production on Tuesday after a riot involving 2,000 workers (and blamed on harsh security guards) had forced it to close for 24 hours, in an incident that put Chinese labor conditions back under the microscope.

* Taking an iPhone from a baby: The Sun of London reported on a theft by a man caught on a Northern England store security camera taking an iPhone from a baby in a stroller while the child's mom shopped for clothes. (See video here.)

* Violent turn: In February, The New York Post reported that an 81-year-old man was shoved onto the tracks at a Brooklyn subway station after chasing a teen who allegedly stole his iPhone.

* iPad thefts via Craigslist: San Diego police arrested a suspect over the summer who was accused of answering Craigslist ads for iPads, pulling guns on the would-be sellers and walking off with the Apple tablets.

* More subtle iPhone, iPad crime: At first the FBI got the blame, but later an app development company called BlueToad acknowledged that its database of Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch unique device identification (UDID) numbers was breached, enabling a hacker claiming affiliation with AntiSec to steal and then leak 1 million of the UDIDs, possibly compromising Apple customer privacy.

* Counterfeit iPhones: Wondering why that iPhone you bought from the guy with the trench coat was so cheap? Counterfeit versions are said to be many, as was the case in a Washington, D.C.-area incident involving a father-son operation.

Shown at right, a portion of seized counterfeit iPhone rear panels, phone covers, and chargers with a street value of approximately $250,000 in Los Angeles in this handout photograph taken Oct. 23, 2011. The items were believed to have been imported from China.

*Ultimate iPad theft: A suspect was arrested over the summer in California after the home of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was burglarized, with a few iPads, an Apple TV and other items being taken. Reportedly, the theft was random and the suspect did not realize it was Jobs' family's home.

See also:

iPad mini rumour roundup
Apple has ordered more than 10 million iPad minis for Q4, says WSJ
In pictures: renders of Apple's iPad mini tablet
New iPods to launch tomorrow but supplies are low, reports say
Foxconn denies strike, says iPhone 5 production is on track