(Examiner, The (Wash., DC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Police officials, wireless industry officials and lawmakers on Tuesday announced plans to create a nationwide system to block cellphones from being reused after they are stolen, in response to an escalation of smartphone robberies around the United States.
The announcement comes just weeks after D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier blasted wireless carriers, saying they put profits above public safety for refusing to implement a system that is already used in the United Kingdom and Australia.
During an appearance on national television in March, Lanier said industry leaders ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Today, I have to take that back and give credit where credit is due. Today, I say, Thank you, said Lanier, who was flanked Tuesday by New York Police Department Commissioner Ray Kelly, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski.
The initiative represented a victory for Lanier, who led law enforcements efforts to lobby the industry and the FCC to stop the thefts. The announcement was made at the Districts city hall.
The wireless industry has agreed to implement a system within six months so phones that are reported stolen will not be able to work.
Customers who have their wireless devices stolen will be able to call their carrier, and with a push of a button, the stolen phone will be deactivated, officials said.
Schumer said hell introduce legislation that will make it a federal crime punishable by five years in prison to tamper with a cellphones identification number, which thieves might try to change to get around the new protections. These steps will make a [stolen] cellphone as worthless as an empty wallet, Schumer said.
The proliferation of smartphones has contributed to a crime epidemic. One Midwestern police chief told Lanier that his only homicide last year occurred when a robber of a cellphone pushed a woman down a stairwell.
In D.C., cellphones were taken in 54 percent more robberies in 2011 than in 2007. Cellphones are now taken in 38 percent of all robberies in the District.
Police in the Washington have tackled the problem, including offering $25,000 rewards, using decoys to catch robbers and raiding more than a dozen businesses accused of buying and selling the stolen devices.
Schumer called smartphones catnip for criminals because theyre valuable and easy to steal. Not only do the criminals take the actual device, he said, but theyre stealing personal information, like credit card, bank and other information.
Wireless industry officials wouldnt say how much the initiative would cost.
Christopher Guttman-McCabe of CTIA-The Wireless Association, a national trade group, said, We dont think about cost in this context. This is about safety and security.
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