DAYTON, Ohio -- Dayton Police officers are using a local software company's technology to catch thieves and are reporting some success after several years of development.
Detectives launched an ongoing operation in the Oregon District this weekend that utilizes specially equipped tablets to lure and then track thieves.
They made two arrests in the first 24 hours of the operation.
The first came Monday evening when 20-year-old Ravon Spears allegedly stole a tablet device from inside a city-owned Chevy Lumina on Brown Street. Thanks to software developed by Dayton-based Initial Point, from the moment it was moved, the device began taking pictures of the suspect and sending alerts about its location to police.
Officers say they tracked the device to an apartment building on Wilkinson, where Spears was found with the tablet, and arrested. He is being held in the Montgomery County Jail on a misdemeanor theft charge. His bail was set at $2,500.
Police made a second arrest Tuesday afternoon. In that case, authorities say the accused thief had already disposed of the tablet when they caught up. Because detectives have the suspect's photo, they are still able to pursue charges.
Dayton Police Major Larry Faulkner said his team has been working with Initial Point for two years to develop this software, which is one of a kind, along with researchers at the University of Dayton Research Institute. Once the technology has a proven track record, the company plans to market it nationally.
According to the company's Web page, Initial Point has developed specialized technology expertise in the area of sensors and facial recognition.
The idea to use bait for thieves is nothing new, and lots of electronic devices now contain GPS tracking technology. It's the combination of several technologies and the marriage with police investigative techniques that make this system so effective, according to Initial Point's Gary Brown.
Bait cars, or decoy cars, have been used by law enforcement agencies nationwide since the late '90s.
Some bait cars simply track the movement of the stolen vehicle while others employ kill switches that disable the engine and lock the doors. The popularity of this method even sparked a reality show on truTV called "Bait Car."
The Dayton program differs from most because it does not require that officers actively monitor the decoy.
"This is actually perfect because the officers can do other tasks," Faulkner said.
Without this technology, police have two options to try to catch the thieves targeting a certain area: increase patrols in the area, or conduct a stake out.
Faulker said both of those options are becoming more difficult because of staffing reductions.
Some defense attorneys have argued that the use of decoy cars constitutes entrapment.
In an online discussion hosted by the creators of "Bait Car," Daytona Beach defense attorney James Dickson Crock said, "Cops are there to enforce the law. To stop crime. And apprehend those who violate law. Police are not there to create crimes."
But police say they are catching career criminals.
"These are individuals that will be committing the crimes anyways," said Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl.
Faulkner said both of the arrested individuals this week have extensive criminal records. Spears has several prior misdemeanor convictions for criminal trespass and one conviction for carrying a concealed weapon.
"If the idea of breaking into the car and stealing the item originated in the mind of the accused, then it's going to be hard to argue entrapment," said Rudy Wehner, director of the Montgomery County Public Defenders Office.
Entrapment is an affirmative defense in Ohio, so the burden would be on the defendant to prove the criminal design originated with the police. "The officer may go so far as to suggest the offense and to provide the opportunity to commit it," without it being entrapment, according to official Ohio Jury Instructions.
Biehl said police have several decoy devices in use at a cost of several hundred dollars per device. He said the cost is a bargain compared with the savings in personnel deployment.
Faulkner said citywide thefts from vehicles are down five percent compared with 2011 year-to-date. Biehl said the department continues to seek ways to use technology to reduce crime in the city.