Defenders Investigation: Baiting auto crooks


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR and producer SANDRA BARRY

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on May 13, 2013 at 6:34 PM

Updated Monday, May 13 at 6:41 PM

AUSTIN -- Reports of auto theft in Austin have jumped for a second year in a row.

According to reports reviewed by the Defenders, thefts jumped from 2,062 in 2009, to more the 2,100 in 2012. That’s five vehicles stolen in the city a day.

The Austin Police Department says they are employing a high-tech tool to help combat the crime. Police said they place department-owned vehicles, hidden with GPS technology, in areas where vehicles are stolen the most, like downtown Austin. Police can track the vehicles’ every move once it’s stolen. When a crook takes the bait, a computer system sends an alert, and APD jumps into action.

"With the bait vehicles, they look like everyday vehicles, nothing stands out about them," APD Detective David Wright said.

When APD pursues the bait cars, they use technology that can stop suspects from getting away and engaging in high-speed chases.

Police would not reveal exactly how the technology works.

"We can control the situation, I can put it that way," said Wright.

The bait vehicles are responsible for apprehending several car thieves.

"We like the fact that yeah, they chose our car, they're trying to steal our car - APD's car, and when we've apprehended them then we know we've removed a car thief off the street,” Wright said.

Despite the success of the bait cars, auto theft continues to increase in Austin.

"I think there's just a high volume. There's not a whole heck of a lot people can do about it," Austin resident Terry Williams said. Someone stole his truck last year, along with $40,000 worth of art.

Wright believes there’s "no definitive answer" for the increase in auto theft.

“The recent influx of population; the economy nationwide, there's also a commercial aspect to it where some individuals will hire people to steal trucks," Wright said.

Click here for a map of vehicle thefts from 2009-April 2013.