Baltimore County has banned similar devices, which give users instant cash in exchange for cell phones.
Baltimore County has banned similar devices, which give users instant cash in exchange for cell phones. (SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images)

Cell-phone recycling kiosks will be banned and stores that buy small electronics will be regulated like pawn shops under legislation passed Tuesday by the Baltimore County Council.

The pair of bills, introduced last month by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, is meant to stem the theft of cell phones, which police say is a growing problem in the county. Both measures passed unanimously in a 6-0 vote, with one member absent.


Robberies in the county have increased in recent years, with more than 350 cell phones stolen last year, police say. County police believe the potential for instant cash available at the recycling machines "was a driving force behind many of these crimes," Chief Jim Johnson said after the meeting.

"We are aware of several robberies where within minutes, the suspect went to the machine," he said.

The kiosks are often called "reverse vending machines" and allow users to exchange cell phones for cash. The San Diego-based company ecoATM operates the kiosks and says politicians have unfairly blamed them for the problem of cell phone theft.

"We're obviously disappointed," company spokesman Ryan Kuder said. "We think this is a case of putting politics ahead of public safety."

Kuder called ecoATM's service "a safe and convenient solution" and said the company already takes many steps to prevent fraud, such requiring thumbprints and valid ID cards to make a transaction.

County police say their research has called the technology's reliability into question.

Baltimore City banned the machines last year. The ecoATMs have already been removed from some county malls after General Growth Properties said in January it would take them out of all its Maryland shopping centers.

Only two kiosks are left in the county, both at Security Square Mall, Kuder said. Machines at Eastpoint Mall were recently removed, he said.

Under another bill, stores such as GameStop will no longer be able to pay cash for small electronics. The stores will have to report purchases daily to the county police, as pawn shops do. Also, they will be required to apply for a license from the county and hold items for 18 days. A license fee has not yet been set.

Under amendments approved Tuesday, wireless carriers and pawnshops will be exempt from the legislation, which takes effect March 16.

Pawnshops already are regulated.

Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said both bills were in response to resident concerns about robberies.

"This is something that came directly from the community associations," he said.

Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat, did not vote. He was absent because he is recovering from back surgery.