Chicago aldermen crack down on cell phone theft

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The Chicago Police Department would get a powerful new weapon to combat the burgeoning number of cell phone thefts, thanks to a crackdown advanced Monday that’s patterned after Chicago’s pawn shop ordinance.

At the behest of Aldermen Edward Burke (14th) and Pat O’Connor (40th), the City Council’s Public Safety Committee agreed to require anyone who unlocks or attempts to unlock a wireless communications device in exchange for a fee in Chicago to gather valuable information and provide it to the Police Department by noon each day.

The information includes:

• The driver’s license or government issued identification of the requesting party, including name, address and date of birth.

• The mobile equipment identifier, international mobile station equipment identity or electronic serial number of the device.

• The name and address of the unlocking service.

Eugene Roy, commander of the Police Department’s Area Central Detective Division, said he found 50 ads on the Internet Sunday for Chicago businesses offering to unlock cell phones for anywhere from $25 to $50. The process takes just 20 minutes.

“This ordinance gets us into those small, corner stores where the illegal unlocking of these phones is going on. That’s the important thing…The ordinance gets us into these stores across the city. It’s a level playing field,” Roy said.

Sgt. Edward Wodnicki of Area Central said many of the 12,730 phones lost or stolen in Chicago last year will end up overseas where the value is high because consumers can’t get the latest iPhone or Samsung Galaxy.

That helps to explain why the number of lost of stolen phone nationwide has skyrocketed, from 2.6 million in 2012 to 4.7 million — or 100-a-minute — last year.

“I’ve interviewed hundreds of mobile phone theft robbers and thieves and, across the board, they tell us, ‘I can make more money stealing phones than I can selling dope on the street corner,’ “ Wodnicki said.

“You’ll see these guys operate in large groups. Sometimes two people or one person. Grab a phone, go put $100 or $200 their pocket. It’s very, very easy money for them….We welcome laws like this as tools that help us to reduce the value of these phones….Ordinances like this force them to follow certain procedures which will allow us to look into who may possibly be stealing phones.”

O’Connor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, said he specifically crafted the cell phone crackdown to mirror the pawn shop ordinance he championed to stop the fencing of stolen goods.

“Pawn shops are required to, on a daily basis, notify the Chicago Police Department of those things they take in. They describe the item. They have identification of the person who brought it in. It goes to the Police Department, so they can do a comparative to those things reported as stolen,” he said.

“In this instance, you have identification of the individual who brings in the phone and a….cellular V.I.N. number…It allows the Police Department to have one more tool to find people who are dealing in stolen goods. It will make it harder for folks who are stealing phones in the Chicago area to actually get their $200 quickly because they won’t be able to utilize the smaller stores…to do this [unlocking] transaction. If local municipalities around us follow suit, we can help make it even more difficult.”

Anyone who violates the daily reporting requirement would faces fines ranging from $500-to-$1,000 for each offense.

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