Police in one California city are using 'bait houses' to catch burglars

The affluent Bay Area city of Atherton, California, which has seen a dramatic rise in home burglaries this year, is using a unique method to catch perpetrators.

The Atherton Police Department recently turned about 50 homes into “bait houses,” where they're embedding tracking devices into items of property they believe burglars will want to take.

"The idea behind it is once one of these items starts being moved, we will get a notification at the police department, which is going to start our response,” said Atherton police Cmdr. Dan Larsen.

The department will then launch a drone to follow the tracking device. About 50 mounted license-plate readers that have been placed around the small city would be able to detect the getaway vehicle and provide a description, he said.

Atherton, California

Atherton, Calif.Google Maps

Resident and homeowner John Maulbetsch said he's impressed with the idea.

“Basically, I don’t like surveillance much, but I think this is an effective scheme,” he said.

Police acknowledge the bait houses are similar to bait cars, which are designed to tempt car thieves, but they said they're not trying to entice burglars.

“We are not setting homes up to where, ‘Hey! come here. This is the house that we want you to burglarize.’ It is a home where we’re working with the community and they’re saying ‘Hey! we’re interested in this program,’” Larsen said. “We’re going into their homes, embedding those tracking devices on stuff that is already existing inside of the property, and once it gets taken, then we start our investigation.”

The police department said more homeowners are saying they want to participate, enough that it plans to rotate in different houses where it will place the bait.

Robert Handa

Robert Handa is a reporter for NBC Bay Area.

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