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Using GPS equipped bait to catch thieves

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  • Using GPS equipped bait to catch thieves

    So for about the past 9 months my agency has had numerous reports of thefts from vehicles in local hotel parking lots, specifically three hotels that are less than one mile from each other. Our patrol units were having to take reports every few days, sometimes every day, for this nuisance crime. The thief was taking tools from unlocked tool boxes or the beds of pickup trucks. The hotels were not concerned and did nothing to beef up their security. One of the hotels was easily accessible by a heavily wooded trail that connected to a back road, allowing the thief easy access to the parking lot in which he could remain hidden on his approach and was only exposed for as long as it took him to swipe the goods from a vehicle. We tried increasing patrols but, let's face it, it's easy to avoid a fully marked patrol car in the dead of night. We decided to put up some game cameras along the trail and see what we could catch. Sure enough, the thefts continued and when we pulled our cameras in we found images of an older guy on a bike creeping into the lot from the trail. We distributed the images to local agencies and got some possible names (that turned out to be wrong). The thefts continued unabated.

    Enter GPS tracking devices. We obtained four of them on a grant and immediately cooked up a plan to use them to nab this guy. We used one of our detective's beater pickup truck and planted two devices, one in a tool box full of hand tools and the other in the battery compartment of a drill that was left in it's case. Then we dusted the exterior of both items with some of Sirchie's theft detection powder that glows under black light. We left the tools out for two nights. After the second night into the next morning, BINGO, I get a text message telling me that the tool box and drill were on the move. I was able to jump on my computer and see right where the property was going and directed patrol units right to the location on my portable radio. They found the guy hiding in the donation box at a Salvation Army (which was just around the corner from the hotel), his bike (with our bait property hanging on the handlebars) about 10 feet away. He of course denied any connection to the bike or stealing the property, but when we ran the black light over his hands they lit up like Christmas from the theft powder. Total time from theft to capture was 5 minutes. Our bad guy's criminal history dates all the way back to the late 70's and includes prison stints for grand larceny and manslaughter, among a host of other charges. We had no idea who he was prior to this, he was a complete unknown to our agency. We haven't had a theft from a hotel parking lot since, and thanks to his history we were able to use the enhanced larceny charge that turns a misdemeanor theft into a felony. I was able to meet with the prosecutor and show her an exact representation of his path using the data I downloaded from the website used to administer the settings of the devices we planted. She said it was "cool" and that she was "excited" by the concept and wanted to take the case to trial. If anybody is interested I can provide the details for the company that provided the equipment, it's a game changer for sure.

    Also, I admit, I am looking for ideas from anyone else who may be using or has used such technology in the past, I would like to get as much success as possible from this equipment. Any stories or info on how you employed it successfully would be much appreciated. I'd like to maximize the impact of having this gear and am always open to "outside the box" methods to catch crooks.
    Be dangerous, and unpredictable... and make a lot of noise. - John Bush, Anthrax

  • #2
    Great job man! I hope your co-workers appreciate your cleverness and determination to see it through to an end.

    The only thing that comes to mind about a past incident was how we caught some thieves stealing from a tractor store in town. We had a theft of 3 zero turn mowers. When the officers arrived the next day to take the report, there was a hand dolly from the truck rental company left on the ground which had their logo and phone number on it. We called the number and they told us that the hand dolly was accidentally left in the truck but they knew who had that truck, and that the same guy rents it almost every weekend for only a few hours at a time. We put a GPS unit on the truck a few hours before the next time he reserved it to rent it. It was driven to another tractor store in Virginia where they stole 3 or 4 zero turn mowers again. They were tailed to and from and was surveilled while they loaded the truck. I love it when a plan comes together like that.

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    • #3
      Thanks. I should also mention the same company has trackers deployed on behalf of private sector clients. About 10 months ago we had a Verizon store that got burglarized by two guys from out of state, they smashed their way through the exterior wall and crawled into the storage area and loaded up garbage bags with about $60K worth of phones. Unbeknownst to them, one of the phones was actually a tracking device and as soon as they moved it it started broadcasting their location directly to dispatch. The dispatcher was able to see right where they were and directed units in to their location at a motel parking lot a couple miles away. When the first units rolled up they saw two guys by a van who hauled tail away from the van. They recovered all the phones from the van and nabbed both guys after a K9 track. There has been a lot of the same type of burglary throughout the southeast.
      Be dangerous, and unpredictable... and make a lot of noise. - John Bush, Anthrax

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      • #4
        Just got another guy last night with it, a guy out on bond for strong arm robbery. GPS equipped bait bike left on private property next to a "rail trail", 5 minutes from time of theft to time of arrest. Due to a quirk in our state law I was able to hit him with a high-end misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail and now he's off the street again. These devices are paying for themselves already.
        Be dangerous, and unpredictable... and make a lot of noise. - John Bush, Anthrax

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        • #5
          We would leave a trailer on the side of the highway with equipment worth enough to be a felony....wait for someone to hitch it and take it. Or leave the trailer on a construction site with gear....

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          • #6
            In my last agency we worked with a local pharmacy to add tracking device fake prescription med bottles...only got used once due to sucky cell reception it was lost after a robbery. Worked good until cell reception was lost.

            Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G890A using Tapatalk

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Truth_Hunter View Post
              In my last agency we worked with a local pharmacy to add tracking device fake prescription med bottles...only got used once due to sucky cell reception it was lost after a robbery. Worked good until cell reception was lost.

              Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G890A using Tapatalk
              The devices we have also have a radio transmitter that emits a signal you can track with a handheld device, so in case it loses GPS when it goes in a building you still have a way to find it.
              Be dangerous, and unpredictable... and make a lot of noise. - John Bush, Anthrax

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              • #8
                Nice work. Such a hassle to keep taking those reports when you know nothing will come if it. Problem solved!

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Georgetime View Post
                  Just got another guy last night with it, a guy out on bond for strong arm robbery. GPS equipped bait bike left on private property next to a "rail trail", 5 minutes from time of theft to time of arrest. Due to a quirk in our state law I was able to hit him with a high-end misdemeanor that carries up to a year in jail and now he's off the street again. These devices are paying for themselves already.
                  I knew an agency nearby that was having huge rashes of bike thefts in nice areas, so they started using some high-end bicycle as bait that was valued at over $1,000 so they could charge felony larceny each time.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by AppState View Post
                    I knew an agency nearby that was having huge rashes of bike thefts in nice areas, so they started using some high-end bicycle as bait that was valued at over $1,000 so they could charge felony larceny each time.
                    I am considering approaching a bike shop here about seeing if they will loan us one for that purpose. The problem in my state is that the legislature and prosecutors decided that in order to reduce their felony case load, they redefined the threshold for felony theft to property more than $2,000.00. It used to be $1,000.00. But we have a funny law here that use of a bike without permission is a high-end misdemeanor that potentially could land you in jail for a year (not that they would ever prosecute it), as opposed to petit larceny that only carries up to 30 days, so that's what we're going to use.
                    Be dangerous, and unpredictable... and make a lot of noise. - John Bush, Anthrax

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Georgetime View Post
                      But we have a funny law here ...
                      Here in WA, misdemeanors have a maximum sentence of 90 days, gross misdemeanors max out a 365 days. Although the felony theft line is $750, we often prosecuted borderline cases in municipal court as gross misdemeanors. Cases were adjudicated more quickly and the thieves tended to get more jail time.

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                      • #12
                        I'll add to it that if your department has neither the equipment of funds to get the equipment, they should join a RISS center (in the Southeast it would be ROCIC). for $200.00/ year we utilize items that would costs tens of thousand of dollars.

                        Also, gps trackers on vehicles (of course you need a warrant) is a great tool in narcotics cases.
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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by swat_op506 View Post
                          I'll add to it that if your department has neither the equipment of funds to get the equipment, they should join a RISS center (in the Southeast it would be ROCIC). for $200.00/ year we utilize items that would costs tens of thousand of dollars.

                          Also, gps trackers on vehicles (of course you need a warrant) is a great tool in narcotics cases.
                          We looked into ROCIC but I seem to remember the fine print being that the equipment had to have a nexus to narcotics investigations.
                          Be dangerous, and unpredictable... and make a lot of noise. - John Bush, Anthrax

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                          • #14
                            UPDATE: The bad guy from my first post in this thread just got sentenced this week. Based on his prior history, for stealing our tools from the bed of a truck, he got two years in state prison. Being able to show the prosecutor the GPS track in Google Earth, along with the theft powder on his hands, and his jail calls in which he admitted it to his niece, was too much for his public defender to deal with, so he took the plea. We went from having 30+ thefts from the same three hotel parking lots in a 6 month period before he was caught to zero in the past 6 months since he's been locked up. In addition, we've had a lot of success since that time, specifically with equipping bicycles with the trackers and placing them in areas where bikes are prone to being stolen. Got one last weekend where the guy jumped on our bike and was intercepted by the road officer in four minutes. He also had some Adderall that he stole from his boss's car, and the boss was literally filing the report with the Sheriff's Office at the moment our officer was cuffing him. Turns out this turd is a guy I had arrested before for breaking into cars, he just got back from prison on parole, and our thefts from vehicles had spiked in the area where he lives. He also had some weed, so from a simple theft of a bicycle we were able to get three charges on the guy and make a GPS ankle bracelet as a condition of bond. He can't afford the bracelet or the bond, so he's stuck in jail over the holidays, which is good news for our residents. In a weird twist, suddenly our thefts from vehicles have stopped, as well. We're finding out that stealing bikes is definitely not just kid stuff, that a lot of the times it's repeat offenders who are usually holding dope in one form or another. Many of our stolen bikes get dumped before too long, so to be able to catch the actual thief on it right after the theft works out great, because they have no idea they're riding right into a trap and we get them before they can dump whatever they might have in their pockets. This equipment has paid for itself several times over.
                            Last edited by Georgetime; 12-17-2016, 06:38 AM.
                            Be dangerous, and unpredictable... and make a lot of noise. - John Bush, Anthrax

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                            • #15
                              We use something similar on bikes in our area (heavy on summer tourism). A couple years ago, bike thefts were through the roof and we started using bait bikes. The program was an instant success and bike thefts have plummeted. We partnered with a few bike stores in the area and it was a great community outreach.

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