Bait car program ‘successful,’ leads to arrests

The program began in Minneapolis in the ‘90s.

Since its inception in December 2007, Columbia Police said their bait cars program has been successful.

A bait car is a vehicle owned by police and monitored by video and audio surveillance. Police leave the car parked on the street, “baiting” potential car thieves. Police can also turn off the car from the police station.

The bait car program began in Minneapolis in the late 1990s, said Sgt. Gord Elias, spokesman for Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team.

“It has been a very successful program,” Elias said, “Police departments love it.”

CPD began its bait car program in December 2007.

Police become aware the vehicle has been entered through the surveillance systems in the car. The police dispatcher will then coordinate a police response, stated CPD’s Web site.

Once police officers are in place behind the vehicle, they ask the dispatcher to shut off the car.

“The engine will be disabled at the click of a mouse button, which allows for the quick arrest of the car thieves,” stated the Web site.

There were 220 auto thefts in Columbia in 2007 and 227 in 2006, CPD Capt. Brad Nelson said.

“This is one of the few proactive programs,” Nelson said.

Police said this is not entrapment.

“People had full intent to steal the vehicle, and they didn’t realize it was a bait car,” Elias said.

Police said they are not trying to get people to steal the cars.

“We are not enticing people to steal the car, they were already inclined to do it,” Nelson said.

“People are stealing cars owned by other people,” Elias said. “The cars are owned by the police.”

Bait cars have led to four or five arrests, Nelson said.

CPD owns more than one bait car but they do not release how many bait cars are on the streets.

The MU Police Department does not own or use bait cars.

“There is a very low ratio of stolen vehicles,” MUPD Capt. Scott Richardson said.

There are three to five vehicle thefts a year on campus, Richardson said.

Nelson has trained MUPD officers to use bait cars.

MUPD has not researched bait cars’ potential effect on vandalism on campus, Richardson said.

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