St. Louis Police Use Bait Cars, Steamers to Catch Thieves

Screen shot from ‘bait car’ bust. (Photo via KMOV)

As the weather gets colder, St. Louis police say there is often a rise in car thefts.  People start their cars, then head back inside as they warm up.  They go Christmas shopping, then leave their newly acquired gifts in plain sight in the back seat.

This year, police have stepped up one method of combating the thefts: “bait cars.”

KSDK has more on the vehicles deliberately left unguarded by police:

Officers are luring thieves into unlocked and sometimes running vehicles, catching their every move on video and audio surveillance.

Sometimes police will fill the backseat with high priced items and sit the bait car in front of a shopping mall. Other times they will just place it alongside a busy highway and entice those passing by like a scenario in June of last year.

“As the police officers are dispatched to actually apprehend the people in the car we already know what’s going on,” says St. Louis County Police Sergeant Thomas Naughton. “We know how many suspects are in the car and what their actions are prior to the officers making contact.”

He says the bait cars are unlocked with the engine sometimes running and sometimes with the key in the ignition.

The goal is to capture the thieves, avoid high speed pursuits, even get the program some attention and it seems to be working. [Emphasis added]

The program has a 100% success rate, and is likely beginning to act as a deterrent for would-be thieves, St. Louis County Police Spokesman Randy Vaughn said.

Since police are recording video and audio within the cars– which they often reclaim within minutes– they can hear the criminals talking to each other.

“They’re trying to decide, ‘is this a St. Louis County Police Department vehicle, or is this just a neighbors vehicle with their car started?’” Vaughn remarked back in November, as the program first started gaining recognition.

More than that, authorities have the ability to shut down the cars if the suspects refuse to pull over.  This often leaves the carjackers panicked, surrounded by police, in a no longer functioning vehicle.

KMOV has more, including clips from videos recorded in stolen “bait cars”:

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