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Powerful aldermen try to crack down on cellphone theft

Chicago’s two most powerful aldermen moved Wednesday to give Chicago Police officers a powerful new tool to crack down on the epidemic of cellphone thefts.

At a City Council meeting, Finance Committee Chairman Edward Burke (14th) and Workforce Development Committee Chairman Pat O’Connor (40th), introduced an ordinance that would require cellphone stores and other retailers to record the customer’s name and the cellphone’s “unique identifier” before “unlocking” the device and activating service.

Those businesses then would be required to share that information with the Police Department. Chicago Police are currently in the process of “gaining access” to a national database of stolen cellphones, the aldermen said.

The ordinance defines the term “unlock” as “any process by which the software or hardware of a wireless communications device is modified” to permit use of the device “with a service provider other than the service provider initially associated with the device.”

Cellphone theft is rampant in Chicago and across the nation and is a key driver of crime on the CTA. Two years ago, a 68-year-old woman died when she fell down a flight of stairs during an iPhone robbery at the Brown Line’s Fullerton station.

Nationally, as many as 40 percent of all robberies are tied to cellphone theft, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

“By taking these simple steps, we would hand the Chicago Police Department the tools they need to properly investigate and pursue these types of criminals,” O’Connor, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Council floor leader, was quoted as saying in a press release.

Burke noted that the ordinance would “help reduce the resales of stolen phones on the street because people would be much more wary of buying them.”

Before unlocking a cellphone or other wireless device for a fee, the ordinance would require businesses to ask to see the customer’s driver’s license or a “government-issued” ID that includes the customer’s name and date of birth. The business must also record the “Mobile Equipment Identifier, Electronic Serial Number or International Mobile Station Identity” of the device.

All of that information would be turned over to the Police Department on a daily basis, the ordinance states.

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