If you’re looking for some knee-slapping reality TV, you can’t beat the bait-car videos.
A couple of punks hop into a car that’s not theirs, pleased as punch about how clever they are. They joke about what they’re about to do with someone else’s valuable property, turn the key and take off.
In a few minutes their smiles turn to looks of shock as the car shuts off, the doors lock and police with drawn handguns approach. Busted! And with all the evidence of their crime on tape, you can only hope the punks will enjoy the view from prison.
East Valley police have begun using the cars to arrest what truly is an Arizona plague. Our state doesn’t rank No. 1 in much, but we have that dubious distinction among all states when it comes to auto thefts. In 2001, the last year for which figures are available, the number of stolen cars soared to 52,203 — about one per every 100 Arizonans. That was 17 percent higher than in 2000.
The state has made efforts to set up anti-theft task forces and such, but the factors creating our auto theft epidemic are too overwhelming. The economy is sluggish, we’re close to the Mexican border and we’re close to the seaports from which stolen cars can be shipped to eager overseas buyers.
Our climate is no help in this regard either. Our cars just don’t rust out. Thieves like that.
We used to hang horse thieves here in the Old West, and a part of us wishes car thieves would get the same treatment. You steal someone’s transportation and in many cases you’ve stolen their livelihood. It’s no laughing matter.
But at least now we get to laugh when the party ends for some of these crooks.
Problem is, they represent only a tiny percentage of car thieves. The best we can hope for is that the bait cars put an element of doubt into their little brains, a small element of deterrence for joyriders and organized theft rings.
Meanwhile, since so many of these creeps are out and about, it never hurts to recycle some advice. Lock your car. Take your keys. Even if you’re only in the store for a minute, and even if you have to unbuckle Junior and take him into the store with you. Anti-theft devices are a good idea.
Even with all that, though, we know cars will continue to get stolen. Hopefully, more of them will be bait cars. It’s some of the best TV we have these days.