Only weeks after shaming cell phone service providers on national television, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier seems to have gotten what she wanted: cell phone companies and the FCC announced today that they would be implementing tools that would allow cell phones to be permanently disabled after being reported stolen.
Flanked by three police chiefs, D.C. Mayor Vince Gray and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lanier and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski explained that cell phone service providers would work to eventually create a system by which they can brick a cell phone after it’s reported stolen. (The phone’s unique identifiers would be added to a database so it could not be reused.) Additionally, Schumer said that he would introduce legislation that would make it a crime to change those unique identifiers-much like a car’s VIN-on cell phones, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The news comes in the wake of increasing concerns over the theft of electronic gadgets in cities across the U.S. According to New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the proportion of robberies targeting cell phones and gadgets in New York grew from eight percent in 2002 to 40 percent now; in D.C., cell phone thefts have jumped 54 percent since 2007.
“IPhones and cell phones are catnip for criminals…they’re ripe for the picking,” said Schumer, who has been pushing for such a solution since last year. “By deactivating a cell phone, we can put a real dent in this crime trend.”
Representatives from the cell phone industry also said they would work with consumers to better teach them how to lock their phones remotely if they’re stolen and to remain more aware of their surroundings when they use them in public.
In February Lanier warned of a spike in thefts of smart phones and other electronic gadgets. To tamp down, Lanier reassigned 200 police officers to the beat, offered $25,000 rewards and went after the businesses that resold stolen phones. In March she announced the arrest of 16 people associated with 13 businesses that were accused of trying to resell close to 500 stolen phones.
At today’s press conference, Lanier stepped back from her strong criticisms of the providers, recognizing that they had agreed to work with her and the FCC on the theft-prevention tools. “Today I have to take that back…to give credit where it’s due and say thank you,” she said.