Thieves are looking to steal and the police are hoping they take the bait.
Bait cars, that is. And they are.
The Fort Worth Police Department has made more than 1,000 arrests since starting a program 10 years ago in which officers park police-owned vehicles with property inside in areas where auto thefts or burglaries are likely, in order to catch criminals red-handed.
The department’s bait car program, Covert Organized Bait Recovery Apprehension or COBRA, started in Fort Worth in 2006, and in Arlington a few months after that. The vehicles are outfitted with video and audio recording devices, an alert system that tells police when the vehicle is stolen and a remote control.
The car thieves and burglars are usually caught on video, which makes for a strong case against them, leading to longer jail or prison terms. Arlington police have made 204 arrests since the program began.
“When someone is caught in the vehicle, we review the video, make sure we have met the elements and then send the case to the DA’s [District Attorney’s] office,” Arlington police Det. Jesse Minton said. The suspect’s actions must meet the elements as defined in the penal code for the specific offense, such as burglary of vehicle or unauthorized use of a vehicle, that is committed, Minton said.
In many cases, the thieves are caught talking about what they are going to do with the stolen car, Minton said.
The thieves generally commit multiple offenses and strike multiple vehicles in one night, Bangs said. One crime can lead to another. For example, when a burglar takes a purse with a driver’s license from a vehicle, that could can lead to identity theft. Of, if a garage door opener is stolen it might be used to burglarize the home, Bangs said.
The average cost to for a bait car package is about $4,000 and has remained consistent since the program began. But that does not include the price of the car.
Most vehicles come from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, which acts as a liaison between law enforcement and the insurance industry.
“The insurance industry has a vested interest in reducing the amount and subsequent costs of vehicle thefts and burglaries so they provide us with vehicles to work towards that goal,” Bangs said.
The department also tries to get models of vehicles that are frequently stolen.
The program was initially kept quiet, but after the success of bait cars around the country and different television shows depicting or showcasing bait cars, the secret is out.
“We hope that the knowledge of our programs existence will deter potential thieves and burglars,” Bangs said. “However, we do still maintain secrecy regarding the description and number of our vehicles and our tactics to help ensure our continued success.”
Fort Worth’s bait car program is one of the most effective programs in the nation, Bangs said.
“We are currently making more arrests than other agencies that have three times the number of bait cars and six times the number of dedicated employees,” Bangs said.
The next step: expanding police personnel and equipment to further increase the program’s success.
Rafael Sears: 817-390-7657, @searsrafael
The bait car program in Fort Worth, by the numbers
150 — arrests on average per year, which includes vehicles stolen as well as trackable items stolen.
219 — arrests last year
235 — arrests this year as of Oct. 12
5 — the most arrests in one day
3 — arrests are the most of one person
4 — the number of repeat offenders who have stolen multiple bait items
82 — the most arrests in one month
1,509 — total arrests since the program started as of Oct. 12
$4,000 — the approximate cost for outfitting a bait car program
3-5 — minutes, approximate time for police to apprehend a someone who steals a bait car
183 percent — the biggest increase in bait car arrests over the previous monthly record