Everyone wants a smartphone, especially muggers.
Smartphone thefts now account for 30 to 40 percent of all robberies nationwide, according to the Secure Our Smartphones (S.O.S.) Initiative, a coalition of police, prosecutors, lawmakers and consumer advocates. The group claims about 1.6 million people were attacked for their phones in 2012.
Law enforcement believes technology exists—the so-called kill switch—to stop this epidemic of crime by removing the economic incentive for stealing these expensive phones.
(Read more: Free service proves it can block pesky robocalls)
If activated, the kill switch would permanently lock the phone, making it inoperable on any network anywhere in the world.
Phone manufacturers and wireless carriers at odds
Apple now has the "Activation Lock" feature on its new iOS 7 operating system. And Samsung has developed kill switch technology for Android phones. But so far, the option has not been deployed and critics blame the nation's wireless carriers for blocking it.
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, co-chair of the S.O.S. Initiative, called it "disturbing" that the nation's leading smartphone carriers knowingly dismissed technology that could save lives. He's suggested they might not want a kill switch because they receive so much money from companies that sell phone insurance.
"My office will determine whether these companies allowed their business relationships to influence their ability to take immediate action against theft," Schneiderman said in a news release.
Last June, S.O.S. called on wireless carriers and phone manufacturers to "put public safety before corporate profits" by implementing this kill switch technology on all new phones within a year.
Mark Leno, a California state senator from San Francisco, refuses to wait any longer. The Democrat plans to introduce a bill in the next few weeks that would require a kill switch in all new smartphones sold in California.
"It is time to act on this serious public safety threat to our communities," Leno said. "Criminals know there is a very valuable device on most people walking down the street. To address these crimes, we have to take some bold action and that's what this bill would do."
(Read more: Who has happiest mobile users? Hint: Think small)
Leno wants the kill switch to be something that's already part of every new phone, not something you have to download, even if it's free. For this to be a deterrent, he said, criminals must know every new phone has a kill switch.
San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, a founding member of the S.O.S. Initiative, supports the Leno bill. He believes this could prompt the industry to come up with a solution before it is forced to do something.
"If the industry doesn't move ahead, the manufacturers and carriers who are refusing to work on this technological solution, then we will have a legislative process they will have to deal with," Gascon said.