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City Bans ecoATM Machines

P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

The Baltimore City Council voted unanimously Monday to ban machines that pay cash for cell phones. Although there are no such machines, made by San Diego-based ecoATM, operating in the city, officials fear they could be a convenient place for thieves to ditch stolen phones.

“We still now need to go to the surrounding counties - to Baltimore County, to Anne Arundel County,” said Councilman Bill Henry, architect of the ban. “We probably still have to move forward with statewide legislation.”  Henry is preparing a resolution calling for the Maryland General Assembly to address the issue.  He hopes to have that at the next council meeting in October.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called the vote a step in the right direction.  “These machines have been known to attract criminal activity, making it harder for communities to be safe,” she said.  Rawlings-Blake also said more needs to be done, including seeking help from the communications industry to make stolen phones worthless.

City Council President Jack Young said the council doesn’t want the machines in the city until they are shown to be fool-proof.  “Hopefully as we move forward and can work with the industry maybe tweak it; we might can come back and look at it but for right now the council spoke,” said Young.  The council last week rejected an amendment that would allow the machines to operate in Baltimore if they can meet the same reporting requirements as a pawn shop.

Ryan Kuder, communication and marketing director for ecoATM, said in a statement that the company is disappointed by the vote and that it has no plans to operate in Baltimore City.  “The council chose to pass a law that applies only to a single company and which has no practical effect,” Kuder said.

The ban is expected to take effect next month.  Several state lawmakers have expressed interest in taking up the issue next year in Annapolis.