Mail track

Technology is helping us track stolen property even before the police take their report – but so what?

You could track down the perp yourself, but so what?
Lionello Del Piccolo for Unsplash

Around 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving, someone stole my daughter’s Subaru from the driveway outside her father’s house in Lake Highlands, where the family was meeting for lunch.

I arrived right after she realized the car was gone. Chaos ensued. “Did you leave the keys in there?” we exclaimed uselessly. She admitted through tears that she “could have”.

I called the police, my dad drove around the neighborhood, my ex-husband called the dealership, then OnStar.

The police wouldn’t come out to make a report until the next day. But through OnStar we tracked the vehicle at a nearby address. Sparing you the finer details, this led my ex-wife and our respective septuagenarian fathers to organize surveillance at an apartment complex notorious for high crime.

And who among us wouldn’t get revenge on someone for stealing our stuff, making our daughters cry, ruining our Thanksgiving?

“Everyone has had something stolen and wished they had it back, had some agency in this scenario, had something to do,” a petty crime victim told this Washington Post roomas he explains why he put a AirTag tracker on his electric scooter. “It feels empowering and feels approachable, that’s what’s appealing about it.”

But it’s in San Francisco. Here in Texas, the victims have guns. That, mixed with an old man’s rage rooted in petty past injustices, created a difficult situation.

Today we can trace our phones, laptops, cars and purses. We can watch videos of thieves snatching packages from under our porches. We share images of suspects on social networks, incite hyperlocal manhunts. All before the police arrive to make a report.

A neighbor from Lake Highlands Estates shared a similar experience this week in a post that anyone can see on Nextdoor. (My dad shared it with me, with the comment “Does this sound familiar?”)

At around 7:30 a.m. on a recent weekday, two opportunistic thieves took off in this neighbor’s car, which was warming up for the trip to school.

They took it on video – the culprits look like a couple of young guys, carrying backpacks, posing as teenagers walking to school.

But it will usually be hours or even a day before the police arrive to see the evidence. This is because non-violent crimes like these are very low priority. Even if you have a video of the perpetrators or eyes on your stolen Subaru. Last year, a later withdrawn memo about not sending officers into non-violent crimes makes the news.

the To post article examines “the balance between safety, revenge and waiting times”.

As a police spokesperson told the newspaper, “There are people savvy enough to get their property back, but we don’t recommend it at all. You don’t know what people are ready to do.

(We called the Dallas Police Department, but more than 24 hours after a public information officer said someone would be contacting me, I haven’t heard back).

Understaffed and working hard to reduce violent crime, Dallas police are often faced with more pressing situations. It makes perfect sense, then, that non-violent property crimes should be pushed to the bottom of the priority list.

The victims in this case probably understood this, which is why they “played detective”, as the Nextdoor poster puts it, and “took charge”.

With surveillance footage of the car thieves, he says he went to the local store and garage attendants, asking if they knew the guys. One did and suggested he check out the Estate Lane Motel 6 parking lot.

“Basically, we passed by and of course there was my wife’s car,” notes the neighbor.

The couple immediately alerted the police, but it remained a low priority. So they found a patrol policeman to help them.

“We found a passing officer and asked him to please follow us. He saw the car and the suspect was inside it; The suspect immediately ran and several officers chased him through the mud and took him into custody.

This is a satisfactory result.

In my case of future vigilante grandfathers, they waited three hours for the police to show up or for the suspects to emerge. During this time, OnStar disabled our stolen vehicle. As evening fell and heads grew cold, the guys decided to call a tow truck to retrieve the Subaru. For the record, I – like the police and the manufacturers of GPS trackers and OnStar etc. – discourages the whole business of settlement.

Trackers such as Apple’s AirTag are “part of a growing ‘do it yourself’ security market that can generate as much fear as security,” as the To post the dish. Many are marketed as devices that help you find lost keys etc., but are used off-label to track stolen property.

Companies that make trackers recommend calling the police and never confronting anyone you think has stolen your equipment.