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Jump in cellphone robberies in St. Paul mirrors national trend

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Amid a national debate over cellphone "kill switches," and widespread concern about thefts of the pricey and ubiquitous devices, St. Paul has noted a sharp spike in the number of reported cellphone thefts, the Pioneer Press reports.

The newspaper reports that in 2013, 258 cellphones were reported stolen in the city, compared with 170 in 2012, according to police.

"These are very concerning numbers," police Chief Thomas Smith said. The chief said his department planned public service announcements urging cellphone users to be more protective of their devices when using them in public spaces.

Among the victims: Kate Cavett, who was at a meeting at a McDonald's last year when thieves pulled her iPhone from her hand and stole her acquaintance's phone, too, in a just a few seconds. "I just felt so violated and so frustrated and so angry; I felt like I should have known better," she told the newspaper.

The St. Paul statistics mirror a national trend: Cellphone thefts continue to rise sharply across the country.

The theft of Apple devices in particular has become so widespread that police have nicknamed it “Apple picking,” the New York Times reports. Sales of cellphones are highly lucrative, netting manufacturers $69 billion in the United States last year, the Times reports.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar has said that one in three thefts in the U.S. involves a phone, and consumers lose more than $30 billion each year to lost and stolen phones.

In some cases, the thefts are getting more brazen and more violent. In one high-profile case, police have arrested three teens in connection with the beating of former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Mark Andrew, who gave chase after his cellphone was swiped at the Mall of America.

The thefts have prompted lawmakers, including Klobuchar, to call for a so-called kill switch to be enabled on phones that would allow users to deactivate phones remotely. The switch would discourage theft, consumer advocates say.

But carriers, including AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile and Sprint, have not eagerly embraced the technology. That's in part because it could potentially lessen profits that the companies make on insurance plans, which cover theft, San Francisco’s district attorney, George Gascón, has said as part of his investigation into the issue.

New York state's top prosecutor, Eric T. Schneiderman, launched an effort in December to investigate why the companies have seemed reluctant to embrace the antitheft technology.

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