Grand theft auto is now a fishing expedition

Our latest column from William Thomas

I may not be much of a fisherman, but I love the idea of bait. The concept of “bait cars” began in the United States a dozen years ago and is now popular among police forces in Canada, mainly in British Columbia and Alberta. The procedure is simple: police leave a bunch of wired-up cars in high-theft parts of town and naturally, people steal them. That’s when the fun begins but the chase is definitely not on.

After the thief breaks into a bait car and hot-wires the ignition, a tracking system is automatically activated alerting police dispatchers that the car has been stolen. The dispatcher radios police patrol units who would normally respond immediately, but not this time.

A video camera in the dash board has already recorded the thief in the process of stealing the car. This serves as a kind of travelogue for the judge to watch at trial. Next, a Global Positioning System kicks in, pinpointing the location of the bait car so that police can drive to the exact location, thus conserving time and fuel.

And that’s when the police come flying in with their lights and sirens … no, no, no. That’s when the police drive calmly up behind the stolen car and while stifling loud laughter, they use a remote control to kill the engine as well as all the fun the car thieves were having, which often involves a six-pack of beer. For an officer with a twisted sense of humour, there’s a remote that allows him to set the horn honking and lights flashing on the bait car to embarrass it in front of other, more law-abiding vehicles.

Then with guns drawn, the police surround the … sorry. Nobody needs to show aggression in the bait car program because what the police do next is press another button on the remote and lock all the car doors. At this point you’ve got usually two and sometimes four drooling dullards looking out the windows of the stolen car like sad little puppies in a pet store window. And that’s when the police officers approach the bait car with smiles that light up the night and point and giggle at the car thieves who at this point believe the term “joy ride” has been grossly overrated. Thanks to the dash cam and the fact the thieves are trapped in a vehicle that is not theirs – conviction rates for bait car thieves is close to 100 percent.

This car theft strategy is so successful that in order to reduce billions in claims, U.S. insurance companies are purchasing bait cars at $10,000 fully rigged and donating them to police forces.

The U.S. police are having an awful lot of fun in a country where a car is stolen every 25 seconds, 1.3 million per year. In Minneapolis, where the bait car program has reduced car theft by 37 percent, one officer said: “We had one guy who stole a car to go to court.” They trapped the guy in a bait car in front of city hall and then escorted him around the back of the building where the jail was located.

In Palm Beach County, sheriffs arrested a bunch of kids, including a nine-year-old, who had stolen a bait car on their way home from a police sponsored anti-crime rally.

As someone who has a healthy dislike for high technology, I absolutely love this bait car business. There is a cruel ironic justice at the heart of this crime stoppers scam that has great appeal to people who choose to own, not steal an automobile.

I’d have even more fun with the bait car thieves than the cops are already having. My program would be called Bait Car 54 – Where Are You? First of all, once I had the thieves locked in the stolen car I’d wire the radio so that the thieves, usually teenagers, had to listen to Burl Ives’ entire Holly Jolly Christmas album and the knob to turn it off would be missing. An odour closely resembling a really bad beer fart would drift up from under the front seat as a brilliant strobe light circled the interior. Open the glove compartment earns you a pie in the face. Then I’d rig the steering wheel so that the driver could only turn the car left. Let ’em drive around in circles until they get dizzy or run out of gas. And finally, once the car was disabled, I’d have the video system under the dashboard broadcast the following message: “International copyright law strictly prohibits the reproduction or distribution of this videotape. By the way, you look marvelous. Have a nice day.”

Not long ago we introduced a more basic program in St. Catharines, where … I am not making this up … two young men attempted to break into a car which was actually an unmarked police cruiser with two police officers working surveillance in the vehicle at the time. You see the difference? The Americans are wiring cars that go missing while we’re working with thieves that are wired and operating with brains that have gone missing.

The Americans may have remotes that kill engines and lock doors, but we have automatic windows that go down and a real voice says: “Hey, stupid. Stop that. You’re under arrest.”

Bait cars – things of sheer vindictive beauty. I still hate Big Brother but a little less now that he’s the backseat driver of a stolen car.

For comments, ideas and copies of The Legend of Zippy Chippy, go to



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