Groups lobby smartphone industry for 'kill switches' to discourage thieves

(WJLA) - It's a day David Bonelli won't forget - out walking along a stretch of First Street NW, he was focused on his Blackberry - and not the group of teens that surrounded him.

"One of them came up and punched me," Bonelli recalled. "When he punched me, the phone dropped out - and they picked it up and ran away."

Next, in a video obtained exclusively by 7 On Your Side, a brutal beating us captured by Metro security cameras on April 2.

The brazen rush-hour attack starts as the train arrives at Dupont Circle. The victim struggles with her female attackers; she's hit and thrown down against the train - as the suspect with her phone runs off, leaving her dazed and staggering with her earbuds in her hands.

Thousands in D.C. have been targeted by phone thieves, a growing crime in the district for the past several years.

Heeding calls from cops and politicians, the wireless industry is now pledging to make a cell phone "kill switch" standard in smartphones by the middle of next year.

If the phone is taken, the "kill switch" will erase all personal information, render the phone inoperable and keep it from being reactivated.

"Besides losing a pretty valuable piece of [property], you have all your life on that phone - email, password accounts," Bonelli said. "You'd want to know everything was locked out."

Another video, this one from March, shows a bus passenger focused on her phone - making her easy pickings for the thief in red.

Crimes like this saw a double-digit drop in the first quarter of 2014, but get ready - it's a crime that spikes during the summertime.

"Keep your head out of your phone, maintain some situational awareness," advises Chief Ron Pavlik of Metro Transit Police.

Pavlik said he supports the "kill switch."

"I believe it will reduce our thefts," he said.

However, critics have their complaints.

One complaint is that some would like to see the new feature come preactivated and ready to use from the first time you turn on a new phone, rather than be made as a setting that someone has to go into the phone and switch on.

Tom Bridge, co-founder of Technolutionary, a technology support company, said he welcomes the kill switch, but doubts it will shut down the problem - because a thief will still be able to sell a stolen phone for parts.

"The screen itself is a fairly valuable part that is completely interchangeable," Bridge said. "There's no silver bullet here."

For now, silver bullet or not, David Bonelli said he'll be keeping his head up, and his phone put away.