City Council moves to dry up the market for stolen cellphones

SHARE City Council moves to dry up the market for stolen cellphones

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday praised the City Council for taking action to reduce cellphone thefts, like the one that targeted his own son, by reducing the value of stolen phones on the “secondary black market.” | AP file photo

The City Council moved Wednesday to dry up the black market for stolen cellphones, earning an emotional attaboy from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, whose son had his cellphone stolen in 2014 down the street from the mayor’s Ravenswood home.

“[Wife] Amy and I were lucky. A lot of other families were not so lucky,” the mayor said after the vote.

Last year, 14,493 cellphones were reported lost or stolen in Chicago. Many were muscled away from distracted pedestrians and CTA riders by armed offenders lured by the $600 they stand to make on the resale market.

On Wednesday, aldermen did what they could to devalue stolen phones that street gangs unload for up to $600 apiece and use the proceeds to bankroll their operations.

The ordinance championed by the mayor prohibits the purchase of any cellphone from a minor and bars secondhand stores, kiosks and service providers from purchasing or activating any cellphone until the serial number is cross-checked against a database of stolen phones.

Those same stores now must make their records available for inspection and notify police if someone tries to sell a stolen phone.

The ordinance also tightens the regulatory noose around pawnshops and secondhand dealers that traffic in stolen phones, even though they’re already licensed by the city’s Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection.

Those changes would require retailers with five or more used cellphones to get a secondhand dealers license.

Retailers would be further required to slap stickers with the inventory number on used cellphones, keep an inventory of accepted phones, cross-check the database of stolen and lost cellphones and issue a receipt to the buyer.

Fines would range from $1,000 to $2,000 for every cellphone purchased or offered for sale in violation of those provisions.

Chris Kennedy, commander of gang investigations for the Police Department, assured aldermen last week that the ordinance “really does empower the beat officer.”

“That officer has the ability to walk in and take a look. If these phones aren’t tagged. If there’s not a log maintained. If they haven’t followed a myriad of things that this now mandates, then the fine is significant,” Kennedy told aldermen prior to Thursday’s vote.

“With those types of crimes, the challenge is proof,” he said. “If we walk in and see there’s stolen phones there and they fail to work within this law, it really does move the needle to show that they had knowledge.”

Ald. Harry Osterman (48th) has argued that the city’s crackdown will be only as good as the database maintained by cellphone companies. He has argued that the city should take the lead to ensure accuracy of that database.

“If we’re gonna tell people this is gonna help reduce crime,” Osterman said, “we’ve got to make sure we can back that up.”

In other action, the Council:

  • Required Chicago car dealers to lock up keys and license plates of their inventory to reduce theft. Rental car agencies near airports, however, are exempt. Instead of locking up the keys and plates, airport rental car agencies will be required to hold quarterly meetings with Chicago Police to review their security plans and address police concerns.
  • Banned stores from selling or giving away “single containers of wine or liquor that hold less than 25 fluid ounces or single containers of beer or malt liquor that hold less than 41 fluid ounces” between midnight and 7 a.m.

Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) said he introduced the liquor sale ordinance to confront a quality of life issue.

“The later it gets, the more likely someone buying the single serving is gonna sit there on the sidewalk and consume it,” Hopkins said. “Then, you’ve got public intoxication, public urination, fights, congregations. This is in response to that.”

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