Gilbert police are fishing for car thieves, and a special fleet of vehicles is the lure. They’re called “bait cars,” and police are placing these modified rides in auto theft hot spots around the town.
“If the ignition goes, the door opens, the trunk is popped, we know because an alarm is activated,” said Sgt. Ray Savioe, head of Gilbert’s bait car program.
Police can control the vehicles and track them via Ground Positioning Satellites. So once an unsuspecting thief boosts a car, police kill the engine and lock the doors.
Culprits are then left waiting for a swarm of officers to arrest them.
Town police have made nine arrests that way this year and five more in 2005. The most recent was on July 2, when a 28-year-old man’s joy ride was cut short in downtown Gilbert.
Town police started using bait cars in 2004. They joined several other East Valley departments that started similar programs in recent years to curb auto thefts in one of the nation’s worst areas for that crime.
The Phoenix metropolitan area has the fourth highest auto theft rate nationally, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Last year, nearly 1.3 million cars were stolen nationwide, one about every 26 seconds.
More than 40,000 were in the Phoenix metropolitan area.
The Valley is a popular target because of its proximity to Mexico, said Enrique Cantu, executive director of the Arizona Automobile Theft Authority, a state agency that works to deter vehicle theft.
Gilbert had 470 stolen vehicles last year, 435 in 2005. Town police say they recover only about 60 percent of them.
But Savioe feels the program is becoming an effective tool for targeting thieves.
The town is reporting fewer auto thefts so far this year. Gilbert police have expanded the program to keep the bait cars out on a constant basis, Savioe said.
Police program the cars themselves and use a constant rotation of vehicles to keep them fresh.
Detectives determine where to place the bait cars by evaluating trends on crime maps.
They won’t say how many cars they use or where they specifically park them.
However, Savioe said they are often put in high-theft areas — shopping centers, apartment complexes and large parking lots.
Top Gilbert locations for stolen vehicles in 2006
• 3225 E. Baseline Road
• 4101 E. Baseline Road
• 2200 W. San Angelo
• 2350 W. Obispo Ave.
• 275 W. Juniper Ave.
• 1300 W. Warner Road
• 130 W. Guadalupe Road
• 1225 N. Arizona Ave.