HOUSTON Cell phone stores have replaced convenience stores as the new targets of choice for crooks, according to the Houston Police Department. The phones are easy to grab, and easy to sell.

They re like real money, people trade and sell them all the time, said Police Chief Charles McClelland.

McClelland met with cell phone store owners to talk about ways to reduce the crimes. He s asking businesses to make it harder to steal the phones by reducing the number of items out on display and locking them in time-delayed safes.

We are going to reduce the opportunity for these crimes to take place, McClelland said.

He promised to increase police efforts as well, including more patrols and a stepped-up focus on catching cell phone store robbers.

We are going to track you down, file charges on you and put you in prison, said McClelland in a warning to people who may be thinking about robbing a store.

Store employees and owners said they are scared their businesses could be next.

In February, 62-year-old Hamid Warrich was shot and killed when thieves forced their way into his Boost Mobile store in southeast Houston.

Every day we come back and we are afraid somebody is going to try this again, said the victim s stepson, Victor Toscano. It s happening all over the place.

Some store owners have resorted to locking their doors so that people can t come in unless a clerk presses a button.

Some advanced cell phones can be remotely turned off so that they won t work if stolen. However, store employees said their parts can be removed and then sold by thieves.

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