SAN FRANCISCO — Kill switches on cellphones essentially render the device a paper weight when stolen.
And the good news is thieves seem to be getting the message.
Cellphone robberies in San Francisco dropped 27 percent over a two-year period between January 2013 and December 2014 after companies began installing the switches a few years ago, according to crime data released Tuesday.
New York and London also saw sharp declines in cellphone thefts. The news comes after smartphone robberies between 2012 and 2013 increased by 94 percent nationwide, according to Consumer Reports.
In June 2013, New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, London Mayor Boris Johnson and San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón formed the Secure Our Smartphones Initiative and called on the smartphone industry to adopt kill switch technology as a theft deterrent.
Apple introduced a kill switch in September 2013. Others followed suit.
Now they are taking at least partial credit for the dip in robberies, which are often violent and harmful.
"As more manufacturers implement this technology to comply with California law, I expect to see further reductions in the number of robberies," Gascón said in a statement.
Gascon said the kill switch far outweighs any other feature the wireless industry can put on a smartphone.
"It just goes to show that thoughtful regulation that protects consumers is not at odds with innovation. We will end this public safety crisis through prevention, by removing the incentive to commit these violent crimes," he said.
Gascon's spokesman Max Szabo said a San Francisco undercover officer recently went into an organized criminal fencing ring in an attempt to sell a smartphone that the officer said was stolen. The thieves told said they no longer purchased iPhones, which are equipped with the the kill switch. Instead, they wanted other models to sell on the black market, Szabo said.
San Francisco was among cities to see a dip in the thefts. During the same period, New York recorded a 16 percent overall drop in cellphone robberies, including a 25 percent decline in iPhone robberies. London saw the greatest dip with smartphone thefts down 40 percent.
The technology allows a user to deactivate a stolen phone from a computer, making it unusable. Thieves who wipe a stolen device will still need the original user credentials to reactive the device on a new wireless network — credentials they will not have.
In August, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law requiring all smartphones sold in California after July 1 to include this technology. The industry has said that all smartphones sold in the United States will meet the requirements established by the California law.