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Kamenetz to Introduce Legislation to Stem Theft of Cell Phones and Portable Electronic Devices

Towson, Maryland (January 30, 2014) – At a press conference this afternoon, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced that he will introduce two pieces of legislation at Monday night's County Council meeting addressing thefts and robberies involving cell phones and other portable electronic devices. Council members and Police Chief Jim Johnson have been working collaboratively with the County Executive for months on this issue.

"As I've said repeatedly, there is nothing more important to our citizens than public safety," said Kamenetz. "I appreciate the County Council and Chief Johnson working closely with the administration on this legislation that specifically targets street crime in Baltimore County."

"As Chair of the Council, I have worked closely with the County Executive and Chief Johnson to address the increased thefts of cell phones and other portable devices that are now commonplace in our society," said Sixth District Councilwoman and Council Chair Cathy Bevins. "As an avid biker myself and someone who enjoys the outdoors, I know how important it is for people to feel safe and secure when they are walking, running and riding bikes in their communities. We must continue to do all that we can to send criminals a 'do not enter sign' when it comes to Baltimore County."

Baltimore County Police Department's Ongoing Success

At this morning's press conference, the County Executive praised Chief Johnson and the men and women of the Baltimore County Police Department, citing the most recent homicide statistics as an example of the department's ongoing success.

"This past summer, Chief Johnson brought two important issues to my attention: the use of automated purchasing machines to dispose of cell phones and the unregulated purchase of cell phones and other portable electronics by dealers, making it easy for criminals to sell recently stolen items," said the County Executive. "Since that time, I have been working closely with the Chief and the County Council to deter these crimes. The legislation we propose will do just that."

"I have a number of very vibrant shopping and entertainment areas in my district, as well as hospitals and universities," said Fifth District Councilman David Marks. "Working with the administration, I have worked very hard to enhance bike and walking paths and to encourage walkable communities in general. It is very important that people feel safe moving throughout their neighborhoods. I thank County Executive Kamenetz, Police Chief Johnson, and their staffs for working hard on these bills to deter street crimes in the County."

The bills describe "portable electronic devices" as "any portable, battery-powered device with a serial number capable of facilitating communication through voice, data, text, or other visual or auditory format."

Bill Bans Automated Purchasing Machines in Baltimore County

The first piece of legislation to be introduced on Monday night bans the use of Automated Purchasing Machines for the purpose of buying portable electronic devices in Baltimore County.

"I am very pleased that the County is moving forward to take on the issue of cell phone thefts," said First District Councilman Tom Quirk. "Job one for elected officials is protecting its citizens. This legislation will provide law enforcement officials with another very important tool in their efforts to prevent crime. This has been an issue that I've heard about many times from constituents and community associations in all parts of my district. We simply can't tolerate theft, and I'm proud that Baltimore County is leading the way in the State on this strong anti-crime measure." 

Second Bill Eliminates Cash Payments for Sale of Cell Phones and Portable Electronics

The second bill being introduced will license electronic device dealers in the County. This bill will:

  • Require those businesses that buy pre-owned electronic devices to obtain a license to operate in Baltimore County. The fee will be set by the County Administrative Officer once the legislation is signed into law.
  • Prohibit licensed dealers from paying the seller of an electronic device in cash. According to the police, for the criminals among us, cash is king. The legislation defines "cash" as cash, pre-paid debit cards and ATM withdrawals. Chief Johnson believes that this step will be an immediate deterrent for criminals targeting County citizens.
  • Require dealers to report all purchases daily to the Baltimore County Police Department, a requirement that already exists for pawn brokers operating in the County.
  • Require dealers to hold all items for 18 days, which is currently a requirement for dealers of secondhand precious metals. This particular element of the legislation is very important because the County wants to give the police department every opportunity to recover the stolen item and return it to its rightful owner.
  • Require dealers to turn a stolen item over to the police department once the item has been identified as stolen property.

Common-sense Legislation

"This is straight forward, common-sense legislation. It recognizes that electronic devices are a part of our everyday lives and removes the incentive for criminals to steal them," concluded Kamenetz. "And the bill is fair to legitimate business owners because it allows them to continue to sell electronic devices; they just cannot pay their customers in cash. Removing cash from the equation will reduce crime. That is good for everyone."

"This proposed legislation will significantly reduce the theft and violent crime often associated with these electronic devices," stated Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson. There's no doubt that taking cash out of the sale will have the effect of reducing these crimes."

"These common sense proposals will not only limit the number of quick-paying opportunity crimes, but will also provide my office with solid evidence to get a conviction when a crime occurs," commented Baltimore County State's Attorney Scott Shellenberger.

The Council will hold a work session on the legislation on February 25, with a final vote scheduled on March 3.