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Dallas Police Adding Bait Houses and Businesses To Their Thief-Catching Technology

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The City Council's getting briefed this week on "community policing," the Dallas Police Department's ongoing effort to get residents involved in preventing crime in their neighborhoods. This last came up in December, when Chief David Brown and McGruff the Crime Dog came to visit council members and enthusiastically high-five Scott Griggs.

In advance of this week's talk, DPD sent over an in-depth presentation about new crime fighting efforts, including several eye-catching things we'd never heard of before. Chief among them: decoy houses and businesses designed to lure thieves.

Although bait buildings might be new (at least in Dallas -- they've been utilized before in Alabama and Missouri, among other states), bait cars aren't. These are ordinary-looking vehicles with thief-enticing stuff like laptops clearly visible inside; when someone inevitably breaks into the car, police are notified, the thief is tracked, and the theme from Cops plays triumphantly. You'll recall too that DPD's bait car program was briefly suspended after a thief stole a bait car then slammed it into the vehicle of 83-year-old Anna Reyes, killing her. The city ultimately paid $245,000 to settle a wrongful death suit brought by Reyes' family.

Bait houses, according to the briefing, are meant to address burglaries of vacant or under-construction homes. The houses will be stocked with stealable items that are fitted with GPS technology, enabling cops to track and catch the people boosting them. They're also outfitted with surveillance cameras: The briefing shows a grainy picture of someone looking hopefully around a kitchen stocked with appliance boxes. But DPD's press office couldn't tell us this morning if there are any bait houses currently in operation or if they've actually caught any would-be thieves.

Bait businesses aren't in use yet, the briefing says, but they'd like to start that program soon too. No, police won't set up a fake 7-Eleven manned entirely by sultry female detectives. They'd like to persuade existing businesses to let them put GPS-tagged items in the store. The global positioning system trackers would be turned on after hours, so officers could track them when they "leave the store," as the presentation puts it.

The whole technology section of the briefing is worth a look, for more information on license plate readers, "undetectable" hidden cameras downtown and other things that may either make you feel safe or unsettled, depending on how many times you've seen Minority Report.

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