When Washington, D.C., police began using “bait cars” last year to curb auto theft, officials were optimistic the city would see the positive results reported from a similar program in Minneapolis, reports the Washington Post. The vehicles are parked in car theft-prone location, with keys in plain view. When a thief steals the car, an electronic tracking signal leads police to its location. The motor is shut down by remote control, and police descend to arrest the thief.
But Washington’s nine bait cars, which cost $324,000, rarely have been deployed because of a legal concern. Unlike other police departments that rely on technology to alert them to any thefts, D.C. police are required to assign officers to monitor their cars at all times. One officer keeps a car under constant watch, four others are positioned nearby in two cruisers and a sixth is stationed at police headquarters to send the electronic signal to kill the car’s engine. In more than a year, D.C. police have made 18 arrests. The bait cars are deployed so infrequently that some commanders have turned to using them in undercover drug deals, police officials said.