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Wireless, GPS-Loaded 'Bait Car' Traps Thieves 794

Posted by timothy
from the they-take-it-back-to-their-nests dept.
captainClassLoader writes: "The Washington Post is reporting that a late-model car, loaded with wireless surveillance gear, a remote kill switch and GPS, is being left (unlocked, presumably) on the streets of the Washington, D.C. metro area as 'bait' for car thieves. This article reports that they've just made their first bust with the vehicle."
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Wireless, GPS-Loaded 'Bait Car' Traps Thieves

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  • by the_radix (454343) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:30PM (#3366451) Homepage Journal

    Who pays the parking tickets on these?

    GPS: "Help! I'm being towed!"

    • Re:I wonder.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by marauder404 (553310) <marauder404.yahoo@com> on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:47PM (#3366684)
      Many cars, including some current Mercedes Benzes, detect the car being towed, notifies MB Customer Service, which in turn calls you. Leave your cell phone number with them in advance, and they'll reach you by cell phone, telling you that your car is either being stolen or towed.
      • by CaptainStormfield (444795) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @02:50PM (#3367448)
        How useful is this feature? Is it really that helpful to know that your car is being stolen -- after someone has already managed (presumably) to drive away with it? Imagine the conversation with the Mercedes customer service operator:

        Mercedes: Hello sir, I am calling to let you know that a few minutes ago, your car was stolen. It is possible that it was towed, but given the neighborhood where you parked it . . .

        Me: Crap. You mean that someone is breaking into my car?

        Mercedes: No. Our system doesn't trigger an alert until your car is actually in motion. Someone has already broken into your car. Now they are driving away with it.

        Me: Crap.

        Mercedes: Have a nice day. In the event that you don't recover your car, you might consider our all new 2002 Mercedes models.
        • Re:I wonder.... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Binky The Oracle (567747) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @03:56PM (#3368108)

          All Mercedes models with the Tele Aid system (Similar to On*Star) installed have GPS hardware. You have to subscribe to have it activated, though. Once subscribed, you can call Mercedes and ask them to locate your car for you at any time for any reason (where's my wife?). As long as the car is on and visible to GPS, they can give you an approximate location. Location requests remain active for up to 14 days if they don't locate the car immediately. Location isn't really what Tele Aid is for, though.

          Instead, Mercedes also promotes the LoJack [lojack.com] Locator system. LoJack apparently has a better signal strength and doesn't rely on GPS, but rather on cellular triangulation. Many police departments have cars equipped with LoJack tracking systems as well. There's no subscription fee, just the purchase of the unit itself (around $600) which is covered for the life of the car. The only drawback is that you have to be in a covered area for it to work, so if the thief is smart and can get to the desert before you call the cops, you might be out of luck.

          According to LoJack's website, approximately 25% of their recoveries [lojack.com] result in an arrest. You also typically get a pretty good break on insurance, so the costs are somewhat offset.

          The Mercedes Tele Aid system is designed primarily for driver convenience (Where am I? Where's my car? Can you tell me how to get to the nearest dealer/restaurant/gas station) while LoJack's sole purpose is post-theft vehicle recovery.

          I suspect that the DC bait car is using something similar to LoJack - I believe there's an FCC band dedicated to law enforcement recovery type things.

          Wow... I sounded like a commercial there, didn't I? I will say that LoJack does provide peace of mind and I was much more willing to spend $600 on it than $240/year for Tele Aid. It takes a darn good product for me to provide a recommendation - but if you've got a high-end or high-theft-risk car, LoJack is definitely worth the money.

          • Re:I wonder.... (Score:4, Informative)

            by Xerithane (13482) <xerithane AT nerdfarm DOT org> on Thursday April 18, 2002 @04:42PM (#3368463) Homepage Journal
            Also a great feature of new Mercedes is the axle locking. I had an SLK320 (Read my journal to find out what happened, if you feel so inclined) that had this feature. It basically made it have to get lifted up to be towed or moved, which was just a cool feature for the sheer "Yeah try to tow my car" value.

            LoJack is a decent system, but you get no added benefit over the standard GPS locator except it's hidden in one of 27 I think) spots. Tele-Aid is awesome though, and you should have gotten the first year free. If not, go bitch at your dealer.

            The funny thing about it, nobody steals Mercedes. Those that do, LoJack isn't going to do shit or they stole it just to trash it and it doesn't matter.

            There are very very very good reasons as to why civics and camry's are so widely stolen. They are easy to chop, high resale on parts because everyone has one of the cars just about. Mercedes/Ferrari/BMW/etc are not high-theft-risk cars. They say you should get LoJack so they get money, go read the reports.. you'll never see Mercedes on the top 10.
          • Re:I wonder.... (Score:4, Interesting)

            by jrp2 (458093) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @05:19PM (#3368707) Homepage
            LoJack apparently has a better signal strength and doesn't rely on GPS, but rather on cellular triangulation. Many police departments have cars equipped with LoJack tracking systems as well. There's no subscription fee, just the purchase of the unit itself (around $600) which is covered for the life of the car. The only drawback is ....

            Actually, Lojack blows. I bought that line of crap and purchased Lojack. My car was stolen in broad daylight from a bank parking lot. I was only in for 15 minutes, so I know I caught it in a reasonable timeframe. I called Lojack, they said just report it to the Chicago Police and the system will be activated. Not true. It got activated 4 hours later when the record was transferred from the Chicago computer system to the Illinois computer system. By then, the car was stripped and the Lojack disabled.

            What I also learned in the process is the way Lojack works. When it gets activated it starts emitting a signal. When it gets near a lojack equipped cop car, the cop gets a signal then triangulates in on it. If they do not come near a cop car with the right gear, they are free and clear. If they steal it out of your garage at 11pm and you don't discover it until 7am, you are also SOL.

            If any of you are thinking of this kind of thing, look for something that is more proactive like periodically (every half hour or so) sending in your location to a computer. Or, even better, sending in the location every minute when an alarm (possibly a silent alarm) has been triggered as this kind of minimizes privacy issues. This kind of thing would allow you to track after the fact where it is (or at least where it last sent a signal from).

            Hopefully with GPRS (and/or "3G") packet oriented services this will be cheap to do, and even pretty easy to DIY as you could have it just send the data back to your computer.

            Bottom line, Lojack failed me, the process is full of holes well beyond the obvious ones. Also note, their "guarantee" is not for life, only the "service" is. When I tried to collect, they said I was out of warranty and the fact it was not triggered in time was the fault of the Chicago Police, not theirs. It is a typical good idea, poor execution.
    • "Wireless"? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Unknown Bovine Group (462144) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:58PM (#3366858) Homepage
      Do they really need to say "Wireless"?

      Was there a (not-so-successful) previous attempt at this, but with wires coming out of it?

      • Yes, actually there was, but it was not the wires running to a wodden shed nearby that detered the theives, it was the AS/400 with the satelite dish mounted in the trunk that looked suspicious to most.

        Although some were caught contemplating it by the television crew parked next to the car, no one seemed to raise the courage to attempt stealing the car.

        Of course, it could have just been stage frieght...

        ---
        Swiss Cheese - The ultimate paradox.
        The more cheese, the more holes. The more holes, the less cheese.
        Therefore, the more cheese, the less cheese.
  • by ScUmM_BoY (17825)
    They've had that here (Hamilton, Ontario) for a while... they leave them in movie theater parking lots.
  • Hrm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by qurob (543434)

    Thieves in my area steal the cars with OnStar right off the light...sure, they catch them but usually it's a little too late.
  • keys in the ignition also?
  • Awesome! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Gorimek (61128) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:32PM (#3366476) Homepage
    Now I'm only waiting for the bicycle version. I lose at least one bike a year in the mean streets and garages of San Francisco.
    • by toupsie (88295) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:49PM (#3366720) Homepage
      Amen!

      I live in NYC and nothing turns my stomach more walking down the sidewalks is seeing a bike chained to a pole stripped everything attached with a bolt. I am an avid cyclist in the city and I would never, ever leave my bike outside because of theft. Cops don't even care. They don't seem to realize that bikes can cost hundred and hundreds of dollars or like my Specialized, thousands. It is a big deal monetarily.

      ABC had a 20/20 episode where they had a hidden camera and a bike chained to a post. It took only 5 minutes before the thieves went after it every time they set it up. Typical response of the thief was "Oh, I thought this was my bike. Sorry!", then they would run away.

      • Do they leave the frames up on cinder blocks?
      • by Anonymous Coward
        About 20 years ago I saw the aftermath of a cop shooting a bike thief. The youngblood tried to pedal away but the man in blue wasted him with a very large bullet. This was near the corner of 21st and L in NW DC near the old Safeway. Blood and internal organs were splattered all over the sidewalk. It was the last thing that boy ever stole. The movies don't get the gore right. After you've seen the real thing, the glisten and shiny deep purple/maroon hue of internal body parts will stick in your mind forever.

        Can't say that I had any sympathy for the young punk. Justice was served on the street. Then again, Charles Bronson in Death Wish is one of my all time favorite flicks.

  • by Dead Penis Bird (524912) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:32PM (#3366477) Homepage
    It catches car thieves, but only car thieves. This is one of the few uses of technology that has zero probability of catching "the wrong guy".

    I wonder if this technology would be extended to the private consumer level?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      In France, they developed something like that for the consumer. Basically you pay a certain fee every year and they install a redundant system on your car (there are +20 different places they can put the system on... limits the chances of getting it removed by know-it-all thieves).

      The best part is that they have made a deal with auto insurance companies, so that you don't pay the deductible on auto theft.

      It has been in Paris for a little while already.

      Artaxerxes
    • Well, it's a low probability, but not 0.

      Scenario: Thief picks up car, likes car. Picks up hitchhiker. Gets out at 7-11. Says wait here. Police bust car and Hitchhiker. Thief sees bust, coolly walks away from 7-11 slurping Bruisin Berry Big Gulp.

      Obvious solution: Ban Bruisin Berry Big Gulps
    • It catches car thieves, but only car thieves. This is one of the few uses of technology that has zero probability of catching "the wrong guy".

      I'm now waiting for the first action movie out of Hollywood that features a tough, no-nails cop breaking into an available car to chase an escaping murder suspect, only to be stopped in traffic two minutes later by a different part of the department.
  • Would there be an entrapment angle to this? Taking a normal, older model and adding electronics to it to make it more appealing and therefore enticing the thieves to steal.... I really am kidding....
    • Entrapment is when, say, an undercover cop suggests the idea of the crime in the first place. For example, if some plainclothes cop came up to the guy and said "Hey, Jose, look at that: some jerk left his Camry unlocked. If you steal it I'll help you fence it".

    • by TheViffer (128272) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:41PM (#3366613)
      If a female officer dresses up like a Pro, and busts a potential client is this entrapment? No.

      If a male officier acts like a drug dealer and busts a potential client is this entrapment? No.

      If the Dukes of Hazard are flying down the road at 55 mph and pass by a speed limit sign that says 55 mph, just to have Rosco flip a switch which changes it to 35 mph construction zone, is this entrapment. Yes.
      • Re:Out of Curiosity (Score:5, Interesting)

        by JCCyC (179760) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:54PM (#3366784) Journal
        If a female officer dresses up like a Pro, and busts a potential client is this entrapment? No.

        If a male officier acts like a drug dealer and busts a potential client is this entrapment? No.


        Now wait a sec. It depends (or should, at least) on how hard the undercover cop insists on the victim (yeah, victim) accepting the illegal service.

        I saw a documentary in which an undercover female cop in San Francisco addressed a passerby (yes, she talked to him first) offering a blowjob for $20. He said no. She insisted. She stuck to him. She bugged him to no end for about 5 minutes, slashed the price to $10 until he finally accepted. Then they made the bust. The cops involved swore to God it wasn't entrapment, and the guy had to go through a day-long ritual of hysterical humiliation in order to learn the most evil object in the Universe is the Y chromosome. Sick, I tells ya.
  • Arlington, VA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sulli (195030) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:35PM (#3366523) Journal
    My hometown! Well done guys. Arlington is cool in a number of ways - many police officers live in the county, so they drive their patrol cars home and keep them in the driveways. When a cop is your neighbor you can have a better relationship with the PD.

    But I'm surprised the headline wasn't: Grand Theft Auto Illegal in Arlington, VA (yro, games)!

  • by Zenjive (247697) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:36PM (#3366534) Homepage
    ...and I am driving you to the nearest police station where you will be handed over to the authorities. Thank you and have a nice day!
  • by Dirtside (91468) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:37PM (#3366542) Journal
    I can already hear the cries of "entrapment" about to spring up all over this article, so I'll point out this definition of entrapment [lectlaw.com], which would seem to indicate that this method (placing a "bait" car in likely spots) is NOT entrapment. I imagine that a court would actually need to rule on this (IANAL), but it's fairly clear-cut to me. Simply placing a car in an area where it is likely to get stolen would not, to any reasonable person, qualify as "government agents [persuading or talking] the person into committing the crime".
    • I whole-heartedly agree. Car theft is a big problem where I live. Even more of a problem, though, is theft of items from inside the vehicle. Someone sees a leather jacket in the backseat, smashes the window and takes it. I've always thought there should be an easy way to "sting" these guys. I applaud the police.

      My only concern is that it's so EASY, cops may just get lazy and not develop the good old "detective skills" that they should be using.
    • by Shagg (99693)
      My understanding of entrapment is that it means the police can't try to persuade you to do something illegal that you otherwise would not have.

      I don't think them placing bait cars in prime locations could be considered entrapment. IE, they're not encouraging law abiding citizens to steal the car. If they had an undercover cop at the scene trying to talk passers-by into helping him steal the car, that would be entrapment.
  • Scary! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dr Caleb (121505) <[thedarkknight] [at] [hushmail.com]> on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:37PM (#3366554) Homepage Journal
    "The car called us -- 'I'm being stolen,'...

    Cars can't talk.

    Why don't they 'salt' a few 1982 Lotus Turbo Esprits? Don't those blow up when you break into them?

  • Great! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by brunes69 (86786) <slashdot@@@keirstead...org> on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:38PM (#3366572) Homepage

    Now thanks to the Wasington Post, I know there are a bunch of cars sitting unlocked, and all I need to do to steal them is bring some radio jamming equipment! Sweet!

  • "A person is 'entrapped' when he is induced or persuaded by law enforcement officers or their agents to commit a crime that he had no previous intent to commit; and the law as a matter of policy forbids conviction in such a case."

    The guy they arrested was arrested with burglary tools on his person. So quite obviously he did in fact have previous intent to commit, and enrapment won't be an issue.
  • ...but it probably wouldn't go over well and might be difficult to implement.

    Instead of GPS trackers, the cars could be rigged to explode when the ignition was started. Of course in this case you need failsafes to make sure that nothing else will set off the bomb. You also need to worry about collateral damage and it'll get expensive after awhile...

    ...then again, it is government spending. And it will insure a low repeat offender count.
    • In South Africa, car-jackings are common. They also often involve the owner of the car being assaulted or murdered. So often, in fact, that car-jackings are automatically considered to be murder attempts. So, one can legally employ lethal countermeasures. This resulted in a car with built-in flamethrowers, under the car and shooting upwards, fully legal. You can probably still find the articles on CNN....
  • ..and if I see this thing parked in front of my apt, it's so keyed.
  • by rtstyk (545241)
    More danger to people when they're entering/leaving the car if this gets really popular because the thieves will stop trusting the free standing car. I can imagine the thieves resorting to using a gun to get the person out of the way and then steal the car.

    Also I suppose the thieves can just observer the car for a while. If no one uses it for 2 or 3 days then it's a given that's a bait. The cops might have to have people using the car in some realistic way.

    d.
  • They designed it poorly. The damn thing should not just shut off with the kill switch, but lock the dumbass in.

    It should take still photographs of his face with a hidden camera, while he's in the act.

    Hell, the thing should have external hidden cameras, so that it can take pics of vandals.

    If they wanted to, they could make this car a REAL pain for criminals.
  • I forget what the original name was but the Ricochet modem was used in NYC so taxi companies could track down stolen taxi's. Later that system was purchased by Metricom and reworked to become the Ricochet wireless system we know today. Even after Metricom purchased it, there were times it was used to track things like stolen customer laptops, cars, basically anything that was attatched to it could be tracked.
  • Next years budget:

    $1,600,000 for a few sports cars that can be driven around by officers and used as "bait".

    "Yeah but look how many idiots we caught with the peice of junk we used last year"
  • by lythander (21981) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:48PM (#3366696)
    If I leave a wallet on the sidewalk with bills hanging out and someone picks it up and walks off with it, they've committed no crime. If they walk up to my unlocked car with the keys in it parked legally, they break the law as soon as they open my door. I'm not required by the law to lock it. Temptation isn't entrapment.

    Entrapment is my promising to send you pictures of hot chicks, then sending you pictures of little kids, then arresting you for having them. You have been persuaded or coerced into committing a crime, whether you'd have committed it yourself later or not.
    • by kaszeta (322161)
      If I leave a wallet on the sidewalk with bills hanging out and someone picks it up and walks off with it, they've committed no crime.

      Actually, in most case it is---you've intentionally taken the possessions of another person for your own use. In most US jurisdictiosn that is the definition of "theft". Not that anyone will set up roadblocks to catch you...

      Also, if somehow the original owner tracks you down, even if the police don't consider it a crime, you can still be sued for "conversion", which is the act of taking another persons property for your own use (essentially, it's a fancy way of saying "theft", except that it implies no malicious wrongdoing).

      • Furthermore, IIRC from a law class way back when, there are fine distinctions between Lost property and Abandoned property (and maybe other categories I forgot) and what your obligations are before you can claim said property as your own.

        A found wallet is likely lost and not abandoned, and a finder has an obligation of making a reasonable attempt to find the owner. Otherwise, you have theft. A parked car is likely neither lost nor abandoned, so anyone taking possession of the car would be committing theft.

  • I saw something like this [abi.org.uk] on TLC a couple of months ago. I think they were operating in DC, Detroit, dunno, some big city. The difference there was that they didn't allow the thief to STEAL the car, they just lock the bastard in the car and radio police to come pick 'em up (or the cops are watching from across the street).

    Really fun to watch those stinkers learn they've walked into a trap! Lots of different reactions -- all amusing.

    This was also the plot of a Knight Rider episode [knightrideronline.com].
    • I think that's awesome when they lock the guys in the car automatically and they can't get out. It's even funnier when the cops are calmly walking towards the car and the theif's panic level starts to hit maximum.

      A hidden alarm/alert and a locking door system couldn't cost more than $5k. I think they should put these in lots and lots of places. It might actually put a dent in the car theft business.
  • Now, where can I buy the fake stickers that read:

    Car contains theft-prevention surveillance equipment. If you take this car, you
    will be convicted and you will get prison time.
  • by dainkenkind (562928) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @01:50PM (#3366740)
    Minneapolis and a few other cities have had a similar program running very sucessfully here over the last 5 years. I believe a couple of the people who were busted even tried to use the entrapment defense, which was summarily shot down in the courts since no one made them steal the car, or even gave them the idea to.
  • You sure don't see many technological innovations being directed at automated crimefighting in boardrooms. Those boardmembers sure hate the idea that someone would inconvenience them by taking their stupid car, though.
  • Would it be stealing if I hopped in the car and drove it back to the police station?

    Since this news is now out in the public, I'm sure the Washington DC police are already working on other secret plans for catching "the bad guy". Kinda like military technology documentaries (propaganda) that supposedly show the latest in military technology... fact is, they're showing the latest *declassified* information, which means they're already truly onto bigger and better things.
  • that way the Police cant aford them and you know its safe

    "why is it bad unlocking codes are all the same we need to get into the cars and we are the only ones with the key"-- rep

    Porsche has a dealer code for the unlocking IR that you can clone and get into all 1998 models funny as fuck to watch peoples face when you open their car via your watch (-;

    regards

    john jones
  • by sdo1 (213835)
    The ones who get caught stealing the car will spend a night or two in jail, get probation (maybe), and get another line added to thier probably already long list of offences to society. Then they'll be back on the street.

    In the meantime people are getting locked up for writing software that the MPAA and/or RIAA (or Adobe) takes offense to. Or for smoking a plant. Or for consentual activities between adults.

    The wireless GPS car is all very well and good, but taking thousands of dollars worth of property that is not yours is an offense that, IMO, should land someone in jail for a time on the order of decades, not days. But we all know exactly what will happen to those who are arrested.

    -S
  • It won't be long now until Ron Popeil has an infomercial for the:

    AutoTrapp (extra 'p' for a catchy name)

    Along with a has-been or no-name actress and a paid audience with great clapping ability, you too can find out how you can get this remarkable device (which also cleans vinyl records) for,

    Not $3000,
    not $2000,
    not even $1000,
    but for 4 easy payments of $99.95 (plus $78.34 S/H)
  • Lojack (Score:3, Informative)

    by Animats (122034) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @02:15PM (#3367050) Homepage
    Lojack [lojack.com] has been around for a decade. Lojack dates from the 1980s, and has a reasonably good record.

    It's not a GPS-based system. It doesn't even use the cell phone network, relying on its own infrastructure. It's based on car units and direction-finding receivers in police cars. Each car unit has a transmitter and receiver, but doesn't normally transmit. The unit constantly listens for a message on an FM broadcast station subcarrier. On receipt of the proper message, the unit starts transmitting the "I'm stolen" signal, which is received by receivers in police cars. The signal doesn't contain any positional information; somebody has to do the direction-finding job the hard way.

    Lojack covers major metropolitan areas in about a dozen states. It requires cooperation from the local cops, so it takes a major marketing and negotiation effort to get it into a city.

  • by mttlg (174815) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @02:51PM (#3367461) Homepage Journal
    Using bait cars that can be disabled remotely to catch car thieves is nothing new - video from these cars has been on many of the countless police videos shows that were big before the more recent "reality" shows. The new thing is the use of GPS to track the cars, eliminating the need to keep police officers sitting around watching the car. This frees them up for other things while the car thieves still get caught.
  • by slykens (85844) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @03:26PM (#3367801)
    There is a guy out in Washington I think that has done something similar with his car and what I base this post on...

    You can do something nearly simliar with your own car if you want to pay the monthly service charges on CDPD or a similar packet data network. Basically grab a CDPD modem that is capable of telemetry. Tie a NEMA capable GPS receiver to it. When you need to know where your car is telnet to the CDPD modem on a particular port and watch the NEMA stream. Heck, redirect it to something like Delorme AAA Map'n'Go and watch your car drive down the road. I imagine it would be a simple exercise to direct the police to your vehicle.

    Now, this working as an effective recovery device depends on the car being able to acquire a GPS signal and maintain it, ability to communicate on the CDPD network, and finding out your car is stolen before it is stripped or the battery is disconnected.

  • Kill car thieves (Score:3, Insightful)

    by osgeek (239988) on Thursday April 18, 2002 @05:50PM (#3368910) Homepage Journal
    I had my car stolen from me once. When you work your ass off to pay for and maintain a vehicle, you feel totally violated to have some piece of shit come along and take it from you. My car was everything I owned, everything I had worked toward... then some son of a bitch stole it.

    I have no mercy for those assholes.

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