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Police: Citrus Heights bait vehicle operations net 3 recent arrests

Bait vehicles, Citrus Heights
File photo. Citrus Heights police display a ‘bait vehicle’ sign in an effort to reduce theft. // CH Sentinel

On Monday, Citrus Heights police announced three recent arrests resulting from the department’s bait vehicle operations. High-visibility “bait vehicles in area” signs have been placed by police throughout the city for several years, alerting both residents and would-be thieves that the anti-theft program is in effect.

Sergeant Chad Morris, who was recently assigned to head up the bait program, said in recent months the department has “ramped things up” with the bait program, focusing on placing commonly stolen items within bait vehicles and strategically deploying them where crime trends are up in the city.

Morris held back on releasing specifics about the program, but said bait can be used to catch someone trying to steal an entire vehicle or a thief taking valuables from inside a car. He said bait elements can be added to “any item your imagination can dream up,” describing technology in use locally as being “very similar” to what is seen on TV shows featuring bait vehicles.

The bait program relies heavily on a crime analysis and mapping program called CATCH, which stands for Crime And Traffic in Citrus Heights. The mapping technology helps police visually identify “hot spots” and strategically target those areas with bait or other operations.

Morris said following one recent bait arrest, officers noticed “an uncanny” correlation with crime in a rather large area, which “dropped significantly.” He said crime rose again in the area when the individual was released from jail, and then dropped again when he was re-arrested on another charge.

Although unable to say with certainty that the sole individual was responsible for the area’s crimes, the sergeant said while an average citizen might work 8 or 10 hours a day to survive, a criminal who’s unemployed has to be “committing crimes all day long.” In light of that, Morris said “you can see pretty quickly how one person can do some serious, significant damage to your crime stats.”

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Answering a common question heard by residents about why the bait program is broadcast publicly where thieves can see it, Sgt. Morris said the signs are primarily aimed at preventing theft in the first place.

“Inherently the sign boards don’t do any thing as far as [making arrests], but what they do is they act as a deterrent,” Morris said. “People see them; they may think twice about victimizing one of our citizens.”

The prevention aspect is also highlighted in several law enforcement and insurance company studies on auto theft. In 2014, the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia documented a 75 percent drop in vehicle thefts over a 10-year period in British Columbia, following the launch of a bait car program in 2003.

Morris said the bait program in Citrus Heights is “still in its infancy,” but will continue to ramp up efforts and develop best practices. The department expects increased bait arrests in the coming months, as holiday shopping increases.

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