Can A 'Bait Car' Stop Car Thieves?

Illustration for article titled Can A Bait Car Stop Car Thieves?

Being friends with Detroit Bus Company head honcho Andy Didorosi on Facebook is kind of like being friends with a mad scientist. Every other status is about grabbing some weird combination of parts — or a whole vehicle — to figure out what to do with it. And his current project is no different.


Being friends with anyone from Detroit on Facebook means that you'll probably see at least one photo monthly of a shattered driver's side window and a woeful stat about how they were broken into. Or worse, a picture of "Detroit diamonds" in an empty parking space, indicating that their car was outright stolen. Even the police chief was almost carjacked!

I've been fortunate enough to not be a victim of theft — and that's not bragging, that's just me counting my lucky stars. My friends in the garage-starved neighborhoods of Lafayette Park, Woodbridge, Midtown and Corktown aren't always as lucky.


Didorosi, a former Jalopnik writer, thinks he's got a solution. He's crowdfunding to build a "bait car," something that will lure thieves to essentially steal that car — or the contents inside — and lead authorities to where they are, in the hopes of combating everyone from petty thieves to all-out chop shops. Per the crowdfund site:

We want to build and deploy at least one Bait Car. We'll construct it at our facility and work with local law enforcement to deploy the car in a meaningful way. With local officers informed, they'll be able to use the car most effectively to catch criminals right in the middle of the crime. We can also allow the car to be driven to the chop shop and possibly break up large theft operations with just one sting.

We'll also build and deploy a bait bike bait laptop bags, bait instrument cases and bait laptop bags. These will be planted in all sorts of cars throughout the city and be equipped with microphones and GPS technology. Once stolen, we'll be able to notify local law enforcement of the location of the bag and they'll be able to apprehend the subject.

It's not a new idea, but I asked Didorosi why he's doing it anyway. One, because he's been a victim of car theft. Second, because he wants to make the tech open source. Here's our Q&A.

1. Do you want to patent the technology? Mass-produce it? Get some more people to build it? What's the end goal?


I bet the bait car idea has had a patent that's long expired. Regardless, since we're building the first system with donated backer funds, anything useful we produce would likely be released as open source so others could build their own.

2. Are any local PDs on board with this? Have you spoken with them?

We haven't contacted the local police on this project yet. While that might seem foolish, I'm a big believer in "It ain't done 'til it ships" — meaning I'd rather complete the build and have it available to local police departments to use instead of just hitting them with a hypothetical. At the end of the day, a bait car is just a personal vehicle with interior video recorders and a hacked together Lo-Jack-like device. If the local PD doesn't dig the project, we'll just put the car out there and publish the location of whatever chop shop it shows up at, I guess.

Illustration for article titled Can A Bait Car Stop Car Thieves?

3. What kinda car are we talking? POS or a new Fusion?

If I had my druthers, it'd be something kickass like an El Camino or a forward control Dodge van. The problem is people don't steal cool old cheap cars enough. We'll use the FBI-published "Top Ten Most Stolen Cars"* list for our region to pick a winner.


4. I take it you have, but have you been a victim of car theft?

Oh, yeah. My first car, a 1988 Chevrolet Caprice police package, was stolen from my high school during 6th period and never recovered. That car was passed down from my uncle to my great grandma and to me in excellent shape. It's probably a donk now or cut up for parts. Jerks.


5. What if — and this is hypothetical — thieves "catch on" to the tech and disable it before it's tracked? Is that possible?

I'm taking a shot in the dark here but I'm betting if you're nerdy enough to be hacking into our devices you're probably working at Quicken instead of boosting Grand Caravans. We'll be building the devices in a way that has a few redundancies and low-tech safeguards. At minimum, we'll get a good Facebook-post-worthy look at them before they wreck our toys.


Photos via Detroit Bait Car

*In case you're curious: Detroit's most stolen cars: Dodge Caravan, Chevy Impala, newer Chevy Malibus, mid-late '90s Ford Taurus, Pontiac Grand Prix, '90s Chevy Silverados, mid-00s Ford F-150, current-gen Ford Fusion, last-gen Dodge Intrepid and last-gen Pontiac Grand Am.

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Corinthian Leatherface

Bait cars are just thinly disguised police racism at work. The original idea of the bait car was to catch professional car thieves. But the tactic of leaving a car running at the curb in a "high risk" (cop speak for black or Hispanic) neighborhood will never draw the professionals as much as it will some hapless crack fiend or bored teenager. Shit, if you'd left a car sitting at the curb with its motor running and door wide open in the lilly-white town in which I grew up, there'd be more than a few dumb white kids who'd take it for a spin. Is that catching "professional car thieves"? You're just laying a spiderweb for dumb shitheads who happen to live in a part of town where everybody has dark skin.