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Baltimore to reconsider allowing kiosks that buy electronics

TheftCoinstar IncorporatedBaltimore Police DepartmentTicketmasterBill HenryRedbox

Baltimore police will work in the coming months with the manufacturer of kiosks that pay cash for broken or used electronics to avoid a possible citywide ban, driven by concerns that the devices entice thieves.

The new regulations are expected to be considered by the City Council in September. The council's Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee agreed in a 3-0 vote to direct the Police Department to work with ecoATM to develop a system to would allow police to investigate whether certain electronics were stolen and then sold.

EcoATM has 600 reverse vending machines in 40 states, including Maryland. None is in Baltimore, but about 20 are located throughout the region. The California-based company — which was sold Tuesday — isn't specifically named in the legislation, but it is one of a few companies, if not the only one, that produce the self-service machines.

A spokesman for ecoATM said the company intends to work with Baltimore police. It was sold to Outerwall Inc., formerly Coinstar, for $350 million in cash. Outerwall also operates Redbox DVD rental machines.

"Nothing changes from our perspective," said Ryan Kuder, director of marketing and communications for ecoATM. "We remain fully committed to remaining in cooperation with Baltimore City Council and Baltimore Police Department to find the best solution."

The company already has safeguards in place to deter thieves, including a requirement that those who sell items provide a driver's license and a thumbprint, said Drew Spaventa, director of compliance for ecoATM. The machines also have cameras that record the depositor's face.

Spaventa said some communities view the kiosks as a crime-fighting tool. The company provides records to jurisdictions that request them and retains the merchandise for 30 days.

To date, the company has bought more than 1 million devices, including cellphones, tablets and MP3 players, Spaventa said. Most of the items sold are broken.

Spaventa said payment for devices varies. For example, a used iPhone 3, depending on its condition, would be valued at $20 to $100. The electronics are either refurbished or smelted for parts.

Councilman Bill Henry said he sponsored the legislation in response to concerns about electronics thefts, which have been increasing in Baltimore and other major U.S. cities. But Henry said he would support the machines if they met the same standards as other secondhand retailers, such as pawnshops.

"I just want to make sure that some electronic kiosk isn't having an easier time selling secondhand goods than an actual person in a store would have," Henry said.

Pawnshops must regularly report serial numbers and identifying features to police on items presented for resale.

Henry said he intends the city's bill to be a model for precautions that nearby counties can adopt to deter thieves from stealing electronics in the city and crossing county lines to get cash from kiosks there.

A kiosk was installed in Mondawmin Mall, but was removed after attracting long lines.

Adopting a new fee for plastic and paper bags distributed by city retailers also was on the committee's agenda Tuesday, but debate on the item was postponed. A new date for a hearing on the proposed 10-cent fee is expected to be set this month.

Bags that hold fresh food, such as meat and fruit, would be exempted under the proposal. The bill also would exempt bags carrying food purchased with public assistance.

ywenger@baltsun.com

twitter.com/yvonnewenger

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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TheftCoinstar IncorporatedBaltimore Police DepartmentTicketmasterBill HenryRedbox
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