Gaithersburg officials recently added a new tool in their efforts to curb vehicle thefts — a so-called “bait car.”
The anti-theft vehicle is rigged with a silent alarm system that notifies police if someone tries to break into it, said Dan Lane, spokesman for the Gaithersburg Police Department.
Police will leave the bait car — with valuable items planted within it — in neighborhoods around the city in hopes of trapping would-be car thieves.
The vehicle, which police fitted with a video recording system and alarm, was obtained by the police department in a drug seizure, Lane said.
Officials believe the department can better combat thefts of and from vehicles with the car, Lane said.
Montgomery and Fairfax county police have been using bait cars for more than four years, a system that has helped them catch dozens of car thieves, according to a 2008 Montgomery County staff report and Montgomery County police Sgt. Gerald McFarland, supervisor of the county's centralized auto theft division.
In the first four months of this year, for which the latest data is available, auto theft in Gaithersburg was down compared to the same time last year; eight thefts occurred this year compared to 17 last year.
Minor crimes in Gaithersburg, such as property theft, were up, however, with 862 incidents occurring compared to 777 last year. Such crimes represent more than half of Gaithersburg's overall crimes.
About 20 vehicle break-ins per month occur in Gaithersburg, Lane said. That number has been steady for the past two years, he added.
Montgomery police began using a fleet of bait cars in 2008, McFarland said. Details of the program are kept from the public to ensure its effectiveness.
Auto theft is down countywide since last year, with 186 thefts occurring in the first quarter of 2012, compared to 278 in the previous year.
Bait cars are just one tool the department uses to catch car thieves, McFarland said.
"It has proven to be effective,” he added.
A report by the Vancouver, Canada-based Integrated Municipal Provincial Auto Crime Team, an organization that operates the bait car program for police departments in British Columbia, noted that as of 2008, more than a dozen police departments were using some form of bait car system and that all were reporting success, with some dropping auto theft rates as much as 30 percent.
A spokesman for the team could not be reached for comment.