Kane said the rise in cellphone thefts is particularly distressing, because many of the robberies become violent or even deadly.
"We have to do something to make sure that our citizens are more secure, that they are not dying for their smartphones," Kane said. "Philadelphia unfortunately is ranked No. 1 in smartphone thefts in the entire nation."
Phone companies make $30 billion per year on replacing lost or stolen devices, which could be a big reason for them to drag their feet on the initiative, Schneiderman said. Still, he has met with the four major phone makers and has seen some progress.
The newest iPhone has an optional kill-switch feature that customers can choose to activate. Schneiderman said the switches need to be universal for the policy to be effective, but was happy to see some movement on the issue.
The attorneys general were joined by Mayor Nutter, who said cellphone thefts have accounted for 12.8 percent of total thefts in Philadelphia this year, up from 11.2 percent in 2012. Those thefts are rising, Nutter said, despite a decrease in overall crime.
Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown recently introduced a bill to ban automated recycling machines that give people money for turning in old cellphones, fearing that they enable thieves to get quick cash for stolen devices.
After hearing testimony on how the machines can actually aid law enforcement by reporting transactions to police, Reynolds Brown has put the brakes on that measure and agreed to convene a special panel to examine cellphone theft in the city.
On Twitter: @SeanWalshDN