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Schneiderman, San Francisco DA Announce Plan To Fight Smartphone Thefts

Announcement Comes On Same Day As 'Smartphone Summit'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The top prosecutors in San Francisco and New York have announced the formation of a nationwide initiative and coalition to battle a surge in smartphone thefts.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman launched what they called the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative at a New York news conference on Thursday.

The coalition includes prosecutors, police and political officials and consumer advocates from more than a dozen states and intends to put pressure on smartphone companies and their shareholders to help dry up the secondary market in stolen phones.

The announcement came on the same day Gascon and Schneiderman co-hosted a “Smartphone Summit” with representatives from major smartphone makers Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp.

Among the moves the prosecutors seek is the industry-wide introduction of a “kill switch” that would render stolen phones worthless.

“Just as you can cancel your credit card and it’s rendered useless,” Schneiderman said.

Gascon said few issues he deals with have a technological solution, but this one does, WCBS 880’s Alex Silverman reported.

“The industry has a moral, it has a social obligation to fix this problem,” Gascon said.

Apple said at a conference of Web developers this week that such a feature would be part of its iOS7 smartphone software to be released in the fall. Gascon and Schneiderman said in a statement they were “appreciative of the gesture” but would reserve judgment until they could “understand its actual functionality.”

Almost 1 in 3 robberies nationwide involves the theft of a mobile phone, according to the Federal Communications Commission; those thefts have been known to turn violent.

Annie Palazollo told CBS 2’s Tracee Carrasco that her sister, Megan Boken, lost her life during a 2012 mobile phone robbery in St. Louis.

“The person approached the car, we think from behind on the driver’s side, and we know the person was trying to steal the cell phone,” she said. “We found out that nothing else that she had, had been stolen, except the phone. She had her purse, everything was in the car and the phone was found outside the car.”

In New York City, theft of Apple products, which police have coined “Apple Picking,” has driven much of the increase in the theft of electronics, Schneiderman said. More than 11,000 iPhones and other Apple devices were reported stolen in the city between Jan. 1 and September 2012, he said.

“The epidemic of violent street crime involving the theft and resale of mobile devices is a very real and growing threat in communities all across America,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “According to reports, roughly 113 smartphones are stolen or lost each minute in the United states, with too many of those thefts turning violent.”

The city saw a 40 percent increase in mobile phone thefts in 2012, but many New Yorkers still walk the streets with their phones out in plain sight.

Last April, a man was killed for his iPhone as he was traveling home to the Bronx and in February, three people were stabbed on a Queens subway platform in a fight over an iPhone.

The NYPD launched a program last year that lets people register their devices so if they are lost or stolen, they can be traced back.

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