GPS thefts — the new crime trend in Haverhill and Valley Lawrence police use 'bait car' to catch thieves

It has become one of the hottest targets in car burglaries.

The theft of GPS units — electronic devices that gather location information from global positioning satellites and display it on digital maps — has become a trendy crime in Haverhill and Lawrence.

Haverhill police said they have received several reports of vehicles' windows smashed and GPS units taken from inside. It's happened on streets, in driveways and at a hotel.

Haverhill City Councilor William Macek, a member of the city's Public Safety Committee, said GPS devices are simply the latest automotive technology to be the target of thieves.

"First it was eight-track players, then radar detectors, then CD players," he said. "Cars have always had something of street value that is stolen. The industry began coding radios so that once they are removed no one can operate them without that code. Maybe they should have some kind of a registration system for GPS devices."

Lawrence police aren't waiting for such a system. They have planted a fake GPS device in a "bait car" to catch thieves.

"We're not keeping this a secret and we want to get the word out on the street that we're doing this," police Chief John Romero said.

"Hopefully, the word will get around to the people who are going after this stuff that the truck or car you break into might very well be a bait car that police are watching. We are going to give them something to think about. If we do this often enough, people might think twice," Romero said.

"We only had eight GPS thefts reported for the first eight months of last year — then at least 16 over the last four months," he said. "It took a little longer, but it's become a trend for us, too. In response to this problem, we have put a bait car out there with a fake GPS that looks like one, except it's not functional. But nobody is going to know it's a bait car until we arrest them."

Lawrence police experimented with a bait car in December. But cold and frosted windows in the vehicle used didn't attract the attention of GPS thieves who couldn't see inside the car.

Now that spring is here, police are trying it again.

On May 5, officers teamed up with detectives of the special operation division to install a fake GPS in a city vehicle at 265 Park St. near Willow Street. The GPS was placed on the dashboard and attached to the windshield with suction cups. A $100 cell phone was placed in a cup holder and the car doors and windows left open to opportunistic criminals.

It took just 15 minutes for the bait car to draw interest, Detective Carl Farrington noted in his report.


Police watched a man get into the car and pull on the power cords of the cell phone and GPS, which had been purposely wrapped around the cup holder to slow down thieves.

When Farrington and Officer Shaun McLellan approached, they startled the man, who froze for a moment, then ran away. Carlos Cruz, 22, of 267 Park St., was caught and charged with breaking and entering into a vehicle. It was the third automobile on the street broken into on that day, police said. The GPS and cell phone were found on the ground where Cruz dropped them, and he had a syringe and needle on him, police said.

Romero said GPS units are easy items to steal and sell for thieves who might also have a drug habit.

Last week, the bait car was back on the street, placed in another GPS "hot spot" identified by the department's crime analysis unit.

"We're going to be throwing different types of vehicles out there so there's no set pattern. And we're going to move around to areas that have already been established by crime analysis as problem areas," Romero said.

"A lot of the thefts are coming from our commercial vehicles," he said. "We've had ambulances where GPSs have been taken from. Utility company trucks, cable company trucks, too. They all have GPS. It might wind up in one of those."

A snapshot of GPS thefts in Haverhill

HAVERHILL — Global Positioning System devices are a popular target for thieves here, according to police reports.

These are some of the incidents listed with police from this year:

A man told police someone broke into his sport utility vehicle on Steeplechase Court sometime in the early morning of April 21. The man said the driver's side window of his SUV was broken and that his Navitech GPS device, valued at $225, was gone. He told police that his vehicle's alarm system was activated but never sounded.

Thieves smashed the driver's side window of a 2005 Toyota Sienna minivan parked at a Victor Street home and stole a Niovision 7100 Global Positioning System device valued at $600 in February.

A guest at Comfort Suites hotel on Bank Road told police someone smashed a side window of his rented 2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee and took his Magellan 3100 GPS valued at $150 in January.

A woman told police someone entered her unlocked 2008 Nissan Altima while it was parked in her driveway on Colby Street in January and stole several items, including a Magellan Global Positioning System device valued at $180.

By Mark E. Vogler


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