Monday, January 21, 2008

“Oh NOOOO! It’s a BAIT CAR!!!”

Have you ever had someone ransack your car? If so, did you say something like, “If I could ever get my hands on that punk, I’d…” Well, how about watching a video of that punk getting busted by the police? That’s exactly what the citizens of British Columbia can do and MoCo citizens should be entitled to the same pleasure.

Thefts from vehicles are a huge problem in MoCo. According to the Washington Post, between 1/1/07 and 10/15/07, there were 5,092 break-ins in MoCo, up 19% from the levels of the year before. In Police District 2, which includes Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Kensington, break-ins jumped from 577 to 1,062 over the same period. In my own neighborhood, car break-ins rose by 60% and car thefts rose by 56% over last year. And when my neighbor’s car, parked right across the street from mine, was stolen – that was the final straw for me.

Rising outrage over repeated crimes led us to identify a solution: bait cars. Used in dozens of jurisdictions across North America, bait cars are rigged with cameras, GPS devices and sensors linked to police headquarters. When a thief breaks in, the devices are triggered, the police are alerted and the cameras begin recording. If the thief tries to escape, police can remotely shut off the bait car engine and lock the doors. The trapped crook then bounces around the car like a panicked ping-pong ball as the long arm of the law reaches down to drag him off to jail.

Many of these bait car videos wind up on the Internet. You can find a lot of them on British Columbia’s marvelous website and on YouTube. Go ahead and watch these hilarious videos! You will quickly learn who these thieves really are. They are hardly hulking mastodons of the underworld. Rather, they are sniveling, larcenous weasels, so craven that they would likely flee in terror from the raised cane of an old woman. They scurry in packs like twitching, squeaking rats through parking lots, garages and neighborhoods looking for tasty morsels to grab. While certainly greedy, many are barely intelligent enough to figure out how to pick their noses with one finger.

Here’s a video from British Columbia. Note the teeth-chattering paranoia of the car thieves as they whine, “I hope this isn’t another f***’in bait car, man!”

And here’s another sorry miscreant on his way to jail. As the cops approach with police dogs, watch the crying wretch beg, “Please don’t let the dog chew on me!”

So do these programs really work? Absolutely, but only if done in tandem with aggressive marketing campaigns that inform criminals, “Steal a bait car and go to jail!” Minneapolis started the first comprehensive bait car program in the U.S. in 1997 and has seen a 30% drop in car thefts. Stanislaus County, California saw a 40% drop in two years. British Columbia has seen 10% annual drops since implementing their program in 2004. And in Arlington County, Virginia, their bait car program has helped cut auto thefts to their lowest level since 1965. Best of all, insurance companies often donate the cars and finance the marketing programs because reduced crime cuts down on claims. Upon learning these facts, nine civic associations in Forest Glen, Silver Spring and Kensington promptly asked that the MoCo police implement a comparable program.

So how could MoCo refuse a program that can draw on private funding to cut down on auto crime by double digits? Given its current budget problems, isn’t it time for the county to get creative? One thing is for sure: the car thieves aren’t going to take next summer off just because the county is cutting funding for police. So when they steal that next car, why not make these gibbering curs scream, “Oh NOOOO! It’s a BAIT CAR!!!”

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