Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: email@example.com
Hear the one about the dumb guy who locked himself out of his car? It took him three hours to get the rest of his family out. This joke may be especially amusing to police in San Diego, who now actually have a way to lock people in cars so they can't get out.
Specially equipped vehicles, known as "bait" cars, are deployed to lure potential thieves and make them easy to arrest. Insurance companies have provided police with several models known to be the most frequently stolen. A partnering company has installed an alarm system connected to a global positioning system. And crime analysts have picked out locations where most thefts take place.
As soon as one of these cars is broken into, the systems are triggered--San Diego police don't want to reveal how--and officers are notified of the vehicle's location and the direction in which it's traveling. Using remote control, police can roll up the windows, lock the doors and shut off the engine.
The booby-trapped cars are a big-time savings to police who otherwise would have to park a regular car in a bad neighborhood and keep it under surveillance for perhaps hours on end. Even then, they run the risk of having the car stolen and never returned. Now, officers can go after the car as soon as it's stolen. That's important in a border city such as San Diego, where cars often are transported to Mexico before they're even reported stolen.
With some systems, police even have the capability to listen in to what's going on in the vehicle. "There are some interesting remarks made when the police pull up and the engine shuts off," says Lou Scanlon, assistant police chief in San Diego. "Mostly they're unprintable."