News

Bad news for car thieves

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Police arrested a car thief in Federal Way within an hour of the theft, thanks to a relatively new system called LoJack.

A Federal Way Police detective was in his patrol car about 3 p.m. May 7 when his LoJack system activated, according to officials. The detective contacted Valley Communications and a 9-1-1 dispatcher gave him a description of the vehicle.

By the time another detective had joined him in his car to track down the stolen vehicle, Kent Police officers, King County Sheriff deputies and State Patrol troopers also had LoJack activations on the same theft. King County called in Guardian One, the police helicopter, which also has the LoJack system, to track the vehicle from the air.

Within minutes, the officers tracked the vehicle to an apartment complex in Federal Way. Undercover officers waited in the parking lot until a man came outside and tried to leave in the stolen car. Officers stopped the vehicle and arrested the man about 4 p.m.

The LoJack system is the latest tool available to police agencies to help officers quickly track stolen vehicles.

The way it works is a transponder is hidden in up to 20 places in a vehicle, where it remains silent until the vehicle is reported stolen. The transponder is tied to the vehicle’s identification number (VIN), so if the vehicle is stolen, dispatchers can track it using the VIN.

If the car is reported stolen, a dispatcher enters the VIN into the police crime computers and into the LoJack database. Within seconds, the transponder is activated and begins sending out a radio signal.

Police officers pick up the signal with a code in their patrol cars. They call dispatch to get a make, model, color and description of the car.

The signal strengthens in the patrol car as the officer gets closer to the stolen vehicle. Because the transponder sends out a radio signal, patrol cars can pick it up even if the car is in an underground garage.

Once officers find the car, the transponder is shut off.

According to the makers of LoJack, a vehicle is stolen every 25 second in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigations’ January-June 2003 preliminary semiannual uniform crime report showed a 36.2 percent increase in auto theft in Seattle, and an 11.3 percent decrease in auto theft in Tacoma.

Nationwide, auto theft was up .9 percent in the first six months of 2003 compared to the first six months of 2002, according to FBI data.

Cars fitted with the LoJack transponder have a 90 percent recovery rate, according to the manufacturers. The average time to recover a LoJack-equipped vehicle is 24 hours, though many vehicles are recovered within an hour.

Stacy Flores, a Federal Way Police spokeswoman, said the May 7 LoJack car recovery was significant for the department because “it was our first LoJack activation and first successful arrest.”

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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