Law enforcement says area car burglaries are up. But as we reported, the Washoe County Sheriff's Office was able to arrest four suspects this weekend, using a bait car. The car looks like an ordinary car but it has equipment set up to help catch thieves, in the act. But for it to be effective, the Sheriff's Office first has to find an area where there's a pattern of crimes. Hiking trails and parking lots are usually popular places for car burglaries, especially in the summer months, as more people head outside.
"People know they're using those trailheads," Sergeant Tom Green said. "People see somebody walk down to the river, to go rafting, they don't have their purse with them. That's a pretty good assumption that that purse is in the car."
After seeing a high number of burglaries in the Michael D. Thompson Trailhead parking lot, deputies parked a bait car there, with a laptop and GPS left on the seat. A deputy hid in the bushes as four alleged burglars broke the windows and took the items, all in a matter of about 30 seconds. The deputy made a call on the radio, and moments later, four suspects were arrested.
"The look on their face was golden," Green said. "I wish I could have captured it because it was basically like, 'I can't believe this just happened. We're done.' It was almost a look of defeat, which actually brought us great pleasure."
In this case, the bait car worked to catch the suspects, who are believed to be involved in a number of other burglaries.
"In some of the cases, people had credit cards taken, so we're receiving surveillance video and things like that to try to put other cases together, involving this same crew," Green said.
Usually, these crimes cost the victims money for repairs and lost property. But it can also be a lot worse.
"In some cases, they're taking your credit card," Green said. "They take your ID. Next thing you know, you're being identity thefted or worse yet, they pull your registration out of your glove box and find out where you live and grab your garage remote."
The Sheriff's Office says bait cars not only help catch burglars that steal items inside, but also catch car thieves in the act.
"Internally, it has hidden cameras and other devices that allow us to see what's going on in the car, shut the car down, if we want," Green said.
Green says to prevent becoming a victim, make sure you hide any valuables in your car, before you get to your destination because a lot of thieves will be watching you, once you park.
The Sheriff's Office maintains several bait cars, thanks to a partnership with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.