Call it what you will — sting tactic or bait operation — tracking technology is helping law enforcement catch thieves and reduce crime.
Less than one year ago, the Dayton, Ohio Police Department entered a partnership with Dayton-based Initial Point. The company produces a technology called Assisted Patrol that helps police target theft by using technology that doesn't require dedicated manpower.
“Assisted Patrol operations … have been successful in the apprehension of both prolific, repeat offenders and first-time offenders,” said Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl. “More importantly, Assisted Patrol operations have resulted in the interruption of crime sprees, preventing further offenses and property loss. Oftentimes when the arrests involved repeat offenders, they were incarcerated for longer periods of time due to their criminal records," he said, adding that the technology has been a force-multiplier for the department, helping get these offenders off the streets.
The technology is simple: It requires a baited cell phone and/or tablet, provided by Initial Point as a part of the lease for the service. The bait, running on a Droid application, is placed inside a vehicle in an “armed” mode where it communicates with a cloud server for data storage. On the back end, there is a browser application that enables police officers to receive text alerts if the sensor on the phone detects motion. If movement is identified using a series of algorithms, a text alert is sent to a police officer. The bait captures a series of photos of the suspect, and provides updated mapping information to the officer, who can begin tracking the suspect.
Once an arrest is made, the prosecution and defense have access to information like the baited device’s serial number, the date and time of the theft, GPS movement of the bait and the photos captured.
“It started as a brainstorming project in which we were talking about issues that plague people in urban neighborhoods,” said David Gasper, one of the developers of the technology at Initial Point. “In urban neighborhoods, one of the issues you have is that someone leaves a car parked in the street and then people steal electronics from the vehicle. We started realizing that we had the ability through electronics to build something to combat that problem.”
In a case cited by Assisted Patrol, a suspect broke into a car and stole a baited cell phone. The sergeant and the nearest officer on duty were notified via text. The officer was able to click on a map and photo using her cell phone, and the suspect was arrested within 10 minutes. Less than three weeks later, the suspect pled guilty.
One of the targeted areas in Dayton was selected due to a pattern of theft from automobiles. After two individuals who stole electronic bait were arrested, theft from vehicles in the precinct dropped by 75 percent.
“This product is great for arrests, but it more of a crime deterrent,” said Gasper. “It’s like a security system in your home.”
Other possible uses for the technology include office theft, university libraries (bait in backpacks) and cellphone retailers.
Initial Point plans to expand in two areas: to offer the service on the iOS for Apple phones and tablets and to create a similar service that would run on an electronic board to be clipped onto high value, non-electronic devices, such as tool kits.
“The next phase of crime reduction resulting from the use of this technology will be direct notification of persons arrested for thefts or those who are chronic offenders of the possibility of being tracked via stolen property, and to be tracked without knowing that this is occurring,” Chief Biehl said. “The intention of this specific deterrence strategy is to deter those involved in these crimes from committing future crimes.”
Assisted Patrol is leased on a monthly basis at $300 per electronic unit. The lease covers the hardware, cell connection, cloud storage, insurance (if bait is not recovered, Initial Point replaces the hardware), access for police officers and training.
“We’d like to see all throughout the nation departments using this a crime deterrent,” Gasper said. “If it can start making theft more difficult for thieves, it makes our communities safer and the police departments' jobs easier.”