That could make it less likely that robbers would point a gun at a victim, knock someone down or grab a smartphone from a Metro rider, officials say, because the device’s resale value would plummet. “This is a national issue,” D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said Friday at a news conference. “We have done all we can at the local level.”
Lanier — who says electronics-related crimes has “clobbered” her department — wants wireless companies to use existing technology to let people who report stolen phones ask their service providers to shut them down using IMEI numbers, a unique registration akin to a fingerprint.
The United Kingdom uses a similar system, Lanier said, and police officials in the United States are asking federal regulators to urge the industry to implement it here. Lanier has sent a resolution, endorsed by a group of other big-city police chiefs, to the Federal Communications Commission, asking the government to require mobile companies to “disable stolen mobile devices to deter the commission of these thefts.”
“It’s a simple way to alleviate it,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey, who is president of the Major City Chiefs Police Association. “Why would [mobile companies] not want to do it?”
Officials are increasingly concerned about crimes involving mobile devices. District police say that about 40 percent of the nearly 500 robberies reported in 2012 involved cellphones, iPods or tablet computers. Metro officials reported a rash of snatch thefts last year, and undercover Metro officers arrested four would-be Apple device grabbers on Wednesday alone.
In New York, according to the office of Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), nearly half of the 16,000 robberies reported to police in the first 10 months of 2011 were of personal technology — mostly cellphones, with iPhones wildly popular. Other big-city chiefs report similar statistics.
“It’s a big problem here,” said Ramsey, who preceded Lanier as the District’s chief. “People have been attacked and knocked down, and thieves go through their pockets looking for these phones — not just for wallets or money.”
Police chiefs want the FCC to persuade companies to allow the shutdowns voluntarily or require it through regulation. Schumer supports the idea and has helped link Lanier and New York police with industry officials to discuss the issue.
In a telephone interview, Schumer — who sits on the Senate Judicary Committe’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law — called electronics theft the top crime on New York’s subways. If the industry does not act, he said, he will push for a new regulation and might introduce legislation.