To combat cellphone thefts around uptown Charlotte, police have launched a “bait phone program” to trick the bad guys and reward good Samaritans.
The program targets the uptown entertainment district, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Lt. Bret Balamucki said Tuesday, where cells and tablets make tempting targets for thieves looking for where people congregate.
CMPD officers have various cellphones and tablets they will leave unattended as bait. Then they will pounce if they see someone take the bait.
Not only do they hope to catch criminals but they also want to promote good behavior. People who turn in unattended cellphones or tablets to management, staff or police will get a gift card.
“The plan of the operation is to put these items in places that are consistently prowled by criminals, and then allow it to do the work for us that officers normally do,” Balamucki said. “And we’re trying to instill the idea for people to do the right thing.”
The program went live last week. It already resulted in two arrests, he said. Also, two civilians noticed when officers walked away from their phones, and told them about the devices they had left behind.
Police plan to use social media to highlight when people return the bait phone and get those gift cards.
Last year, 399 cell phones were stolen in the Central Division, police said, along with 117 tablets and laptops. Police released statistics Tuesday showing that larcenies make up 67 percent of all crime in CMPD’s Central Division.
The phones can be sold on the streets for $100 by people looking for quick cash, Balamucki said.
Each week, police said, unattended phones make up about a third of the thefts in the division.
About 42 percent of Central Division thefts occur in the many nightclubs, bars and restaurants in the center city, police said.
The Central Division comprises nearly 4.2 square miles of business, residential, recreational and academic areas. The division includes Bank of America Stadium, Time Warner Cable Arena, the EpiCentre entertainment complex and academic institutions, including Central Piedmont Community College and Johnson & Wales University.
The bait program can be used citywide, police said, and will be deployed at such major events as the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day festivities.