Local News

Cumberland authorities try to bait car thieves

Posted May 22, 2009 4:46 p.m. EDT
Updated May 22, 2009 6:59 p.m. EDT

— The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office put some cars on the street Friday that it wants to be stolen.

The so-called bait cars have led to the arrests of at least 125 car thieves across the country. Authorities said they hope the vehicles can nab some crooks in Cumberland County, which has the most cars stolen per capita than any place in North Carolina.

"These cars are indistinguishable from any other car parked on the street," said Lt. Matt Hurley of the Cumberland County Sheriff's Office. "They're going to steal this vehicle just like they would any other vehicle."

Nationwide Insurance salvages the bait cars from wrecks, repairs them with donated parts and outfits them with up to $12,000 in hidden cameras, alarms and tracking devices.

"We can pull it up on the computer, watch what they're doing, and when it's the best opportunity for us, we'll initiate a traffic stop, pull them over and take them to jail," Hurley said.

Authorities not only record the vehicle theft, they also can control it to hasten an arrest.

"We can shut the motor down. We can lock the doors," Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler said.

Cumberland County is the second location in North Carolina to use bait cars. Charlotte police began using them three years ago.

About 21,000 vehicle thefts are reported in North Carolina each year – about 1 million are reported nationwide – and authorities said vehicle thefts have dropped 15 to 60 percent in areas that use the bait cars.

Fewer thefts translates into lower auto insurance rates for consumers, authorities said.

"A felony has been committed. The evidence is right there. It's real difficult for someone to say, 'No, I didn't do it,'" Hurley said. "A picture truly is worth a thousand words."