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Thursday, January 24, 2008

High-tech bait car will help crack down on auto thieves


By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— Car thieves beware.
The Board of Aldermen Tuesday authorized use of a bait car to trap auto thieves that plague certain neighborhoods in Greater New Haven.
A high-tech bait car - which is not expected to look like the one at right - can be tracked by police using sensors and by satellite. They can turn off the car gradually or instantly by remote control. Worst of all for the thief, police can lock the car’s doors by remote control, trapping the thief inside the immobilized car. The result: a perpetrator gift-wrapped for prosecutors.
New Haven had 1,241 reported auto thefts in 2007, up from 1,192 in 2006, said mayoral spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga.
"The GPS system has special functions and we will probably put the car in hot spots," Mayorga said. Nationwide Insurance has donated the car to be used by New Haven police, said Capt. Peter Reichard of investigative services. "It saves them money in the long run. They do this around the country," Reichard said.
Since auto thefts drive up local insurance premiums, insurance companies nationwide have teamed up with municipal police departments to crack down on auto theft through use of the high-tech decoys, some of which come with hidden video recorders and cell phones.
Industry leader BSM Technologies in Toronto, Canada, uses a system developed by Jolene Lindner, a former Minneapolis police sergeant.
Lindner, now BSM’s vice president for public safety sales, said her model combines an array of surveillance systems with real-time recording.
"We can know if any door is opened, if the trunk is opened, if the car has been jacked up or if its being towed. We can make the lights flash, the horn honk; we can control anything electronic in the car," Lindner said.
Nationwide will deliver New Haven’s bait car this month, according to a letter police Chief Francisco Ortiz Jr. sent to aldermen.
The city will pay $12,000 from federal funds for the system and to indemnify the insurance company for any loss.
Police will start training on the vehicle Jan. 31.
Alderman Alex Rhodeen, D-13, said a bait car could help deter theft because criminals know it’s there.
"I’ll never accuse criminals of being smart, but they should understand there is a bait car out there. They can get caught red-handed."
Rhodeen said car-theft rings often target certain models for replacement parts, making older vehicles targets.
In 2005, the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s Auto Crime Study reported the Top 10 most stolen cars in Connecticut as, from first to last: 1994 Honda Accord, 1993 Honda Civic, 1995 Acura Integra, 1990 Toyota Camry, 1994 Jeep Cherokee or Grand Cherokee, 1994 Dodge Caravan, 1996 Nissan Maxima, 1999 Toyota Corolla, 1994 Plymouth Voyager and 1993 Saturn SL.
"They are not stealing the Lexuses and Mercedes because the good cars are hard to steal. The older, cheaper cars are easier," Reichard said.
Car thefts seriously detract from quality of life for residents, and not just those who lose their cars, Rhodeen said.
"Stolen cars remind people of the presence of crime. If a neighbor’s car is stolen on a quiet street, everyone tenses up. It’s a way that crime comes home to most citizens."
Ultimately, residents, like insurance companies, see the auto theft rates as a way of gauging the level of crime in a neighborhood. "Watching the stolen car rate tells you what is really going in with crime because everyone reports a stolen car," Rhodeen said.
Maria Garriga can be reached at mgarriga@nhregister.com or 789-5726.

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