Grants help police with new tools to fight auto theftby Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Local law enforcement agencies are getting $4 million to help them crack down on auto theft.
Some of the money, awarded by the state's commerce department, will go toward new technology aimed at outsmarting car thieves. The state grants are given to 21 local county attorneys and other groups and come from a small surcharge on individual car insurance policies.
Mille Lacs County Sheriff Brent Lindgren will spend part of his department's grant on a "bait car" equipped with hidden cameras and audio recorders.
"There are audio recordings of them in the act of doing it, along with a video recording," Lindgren said. "Then you can actually shut the vehicle down and apprehend them while they're still in the vehicle, and provide all of that information to our jurors and to our prosecution to hold people accountable."
The grant will also help Lindgren's department outfit two squad cars with character recognition technology that can read license plates of parked or moving vehicles. The computer program alerts the deputies if the plate belongs to a stolen car.
Statewide figures show car theft has decreased in recent years. Nearly 8,400 vehicles were stolen in Minnesota in 2010. The most targeted model was the 1994 Honda Accord.
A large car-theft ring busted in St. Paul last summer was particularly brazen, said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. The thieves targeted older cars that were heavier, he said.
"And what they were doing is stealing these cars right from people's driveways, with a tow truck, and taking them to a scrap yard, and scrapping them for $400," Choi said.
Choi's office is pushing state lawmakers to tighten regulations on the scrapping of vehicles.