Records show alarming trend in smartphone thefts

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Smartphone thefts are being called a nationwide epidemic, and it seems it’s no different here in Rhode Island.

Eyewitness News wanted to see just how bad the problem is locally, so we got our hands on police reports and tracked down victims, then went to lawmakers and police to see what’s being done to prevent these types of thefts.

We sifted through hundreds of police reports and found many shocking accounts where victims were “slammed to the ground,” “kicked in the head,” “punched in the face,” and even “choked to the point of unconsciousness,” all over their cell phones.

Providence Police Commissioner Steven pare said it’s an alarming trend that’s only getting worse.

“In calendar year 2012 we had approximately 400 cell phones taken,” he said.

We wanted to see how bad the problem has gotten this year, so we requested records from local police. In just the first three months of 2014, there were 20 cell phones reported stolen in Cranston, 24 stolen in Warwick, 37 in Pawtucket, and in Providence there were a total of 108 stolen from January through March.

Interactive: What to do if your phone is stolen
Interactive: What to do if your phone is stolen

More than a quarter of those were taken by force.

“Everyone carries a cell phone. Devices are getting more sophisticated, more expensive, so their iPhones can be $300, $400, $500, $600. So there’s value,” Pare added.

Smartphone makers and carriers have agreed on a plan to diminish that value in the eyes of criminals by adding optional kill switches in their phones by next summer.

“I think it would be very effective, practically eliminate those robberies,” said Pare.

The feature would allow owners to remotely delete data and make their phone inoperable if it’s lost or stolen. In the meantime, Commissioner Pare said to “view the device as a $500 bill. You wouldn’t leave a $500 bill in your shirt pocket or in your waist or on the front seat of your car.”

“If you’re confronted, it’s like anything else. Don’t fight, just give it up. We’d rather see you survive than get hurt,” Pare added.

Some local lawmakers said those optional kill switches don’t go far enough, and that they’d like to see all mobile devices come with a mandatory anti-theft device.

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