In the continuing battle against rising car thefts in Los Angeles and throughout California, city and state officials are planning an electronic counterattack, employing a homing device capable of placing police on the track of a stolen car within minutes.
State Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia) held a press conference Wednesday to announce that he plans to introduce legislation in January seeking $1.4 million to pay for a statewide computer network that would enable law enforcement vehicles to lock onto hidden homing devices installed in private cars at the owners' expense.
While the Los Angeles Police Department will be the first in the state to implement the system, pilot projects may also be established in San Diego and the San Francisco Bay area, Davis, a former Los Angeles police chief, said.
Hope for Statewide Use
"We hope to eventually incorporate law enforcement agencies throughout the state," added the current Los Angeles chief, Daryl F. Gates, who joined Davis in making the announcement.
A similar system in Massachusetts, employed since 1976, has resulted in the recovery of 99% of stolen vehicles carrying the homing device, Gates said. Most of the cars are recovered within minutes of being stolen, he said.
Although the recovery rate in Los Angeles is currently about 85%, by the time stolen cars are found they are usually wrecked, or stripped to the point where they are not drivable, Gates said.
Auto theft is rated as the fastest-growing crime in the state, Davis said. About 60,000 cars are stolen each year in Los Angeles and the statewide figure is nearly 250,000 and growing, he said.
Retails for About $600
The homing device, which retails for about $600, is a metal box about the size of a blackboard eraser that can be inconspicuously installed in a vehicle. When a theft occurs and the car owner notifies police, officers activate the homing device in the stolen vehicle through radio signals. The device then transmits a silent, coded signal that can be picked up by computer-equipped police vehicles.