St. Louis County Police Fighting Against Cell Phone Theft

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CREVE COEUR, MO (KTVI)-- St. Louis County police are taking action to stop a new trend: thieves stealing pricey new cell phones and putting store employees’ lives at risk.

Within the past few weeks, a T-Mobile store and an AT&T store, both in South County, were victimized by cell phone robbers in broad daylight.  Terrified employees were tied up and held at gunpoint.

These dangerous crimes are the reason St. Louis County police held a workshop Thursday night with cell phone store owners and employees.  The goal was to exchange ideas, finding ways to beef up security and curb the problem.  One of these ideas is that stores protect these smart phones and employees more like banks protect their assets.

“Certainly we’re concerned about the issue,” says Chris Pickel with AT&T.  He felt it was a good forum to share ideas: “They just asked us to be really attentive to situations, share as much information as we can.”

In these recent robberies, the thieves ran out with smart phones worth tens of thousands of dollars.  “They’re worth on the street about half the value of the retail price,” says St. Louis County Police Chief Tim Fitch.

It’s a much more lucrative endeavor than snatching phones from individuals.  “Think about it,” Fitch says, “you have a phone that’s worth cash money $300 walking down the street in somebody’s hand, or you go into a store and get a couple hundred at the same time. Our fear is that it’s going to continue and going to grow.”

The serial numbers on these stolen smart phones are put into a blacklist database, meant to curb phone thefts. But often, these phones are sold to local vendors who don't check the serial numbers.  “They don’t want to know if the phones are stolen, they’ll get them activated without checking that database,” Fitch explains.

That's why policymakers and law enforcement want cell phone manufacturers to stop the problem for good: with a kill-switch.

Fitch says, “If you can have a phone that’s stolen and somehow or another, through technology, shut down forever, it can never be turned back on, that’s the ultimate fix for this.”

Investigators believe the two recent robberies involve the same three suspects, all from Chicago. Police have one female in custody, but the two men are still on the loose.

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