D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier blasted wireless companies for refusing to use technology that she says would help stop smartphone robberies in the District and nationwide.
Lanier told NBC's "Today" show on Thursday that the wireless industry is putting profit over safety by allowing thieves to reactivate the stolen phone with a different phone number -- which means the wireless companies can keep making money off the stolen phone.
"Shame on you," Lanier said. "This is something that's fixable. It's not all about profit."
Representatives of the wireless industry bristled at the chief's comments, saying it has been working on a solution but it can't be fixed overnight.
"I would wholeheartedly contend that for anyone to make that kind of allegation is off target," said John Wall of CTIA, the national wireless trade group. "Consumer safety is of the utmost concern of the industry."
The proliferation of smartphones has been accompanied by a spike in street robberies in the District. Police have come up with new tactics to combat the problem, including using decoys to catch robbers and raiding mom and pop convenience stores that they say traffic in the stolen devices.
Police are turning to the wireless industry and the federal government for help.
More than 60 police chiefs from around the country are asking wireless companies and federal regulators to implement technology that would cut off service for a phone once it's reported stolen. The United Kingdom is already using the technology to blacklist the phone, Lanier said.
"[The stolen phone becomes] a brick. It's useless. There is no profit," she told "Today." "When you take the profit away, there's no motivation to stick a gun in somebody's face and take the phone."
The challenge, Walls said, is that a substantial share of the market for stolen phones is overseas, and what the industry can do in the United States would do very little to stem the demand for the stolen devices.
"It doesn't correct the motivation of the crime, that is to sell overseas," Walls said.
Fixing the problem involves multiple operating systems, multiple technologies, numerous manufacturers and different distribution channels. "It's not just a flip the switch," Walls said.