PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane on Monday joined top prosecutors in San Francisco and New York in a nationwide initiative to thwart smartphone thefts by rendering the devices useless after a robbery.
The initiative called Secure Our Smartphones brought New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to Philadelphia to make the announcement with Nutter and Kane.
The group was begun in June by Schneiderman and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon with the hope of successfully pressuring the smartphone industry to develop a technological solution, such as a “kill switch” for stolen phones, that would make smartphones inoperable after they are stolen.
Nutter called smartphone theft an “epidemic” and Schneiderman and Gascon have called it a “crime wave.”
They say that such a safety switch would stop the robberies that are feeding a massive and lucrative secondary market for stolen devices.
Lost and stolen cellphones cost consumers more than $30 billion last year, according to a study cited recently by Schneiderman. In New York, police have coined the term “Apple-picking” to describe thefts of smartphones and other mobile products, such as electronic tablets. The term was inspired by the popularity of Apple’s iPhone.
Kane said the initiative is aimed at encouraging the smartphone industry to develop a technological solution to protect consumers from cell phone robberies, which often turn violent.
“Our citizens are literally dying for their smartphones,” said Kane.
“The underground market for smartphones is massive and lucrative, and it helps perpetuate violent robberies on our streets and public transportation,” Kane added.
According to a report released by AAA in August, Philadelphia is ranked the number one city for smartphone theft in the United States. The Philadelphia Police Department reported 516 instances of personal theft from the beginning of 2013, up three percent from last year. On average, 39 cell phones were stolen per month on the SEPTA mass-transit system in 2012.
Cell phone robberies make up 30-40 percent of all robberies in major American cities, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
Mobile devices that are reported stolen in the United States and no longer able to access domestic cell networks can be reactivated to work in foreign countries. In Hong Kong, for example, iPhones are worth upward of $2,000 apiece, Kane said.