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Car-Theft Victims Urged to Use Caution When Tracking Thieves

At least two people have been killed in recent months amid a rise of cases in which car owners use Bluetooth trackers like Apple AirTags to track down and confront the people who have stolen their vehicles, Axios reports. Police nationwide have urged the use of the devices to help authorities track stolen vehicles, but warn that victims taking matters into their own hands risk getting hurt or hurting others. Cities also worry that their embrace of electronic trackers could expose them to liability when vigilantism turns deadly. The same liability risks should concern car-theft victims who take forceful action on their own, experts say. "We always have to be cognizant of vigilantism. We have to put safeguards [like laws and policies] to dissuade people from considering that," cybersecurity expert and former Boston police commissioner Edward Davis told Axios.


In March, a San Antonio man shot a suspected car thief after tracking his stolen car to a shopping center, police said. The shooter is not expected to be charged. A month later in Denver, a man tracked his stolen car and ended up exchanging gunfire with someone in the vehicle. A 12-year-old boy in the car was killed. The car owner, who previously had been investigated in Maryland for allegedly impersonating a firefighter, was not charged. The Denver Post reported that the car owner in the Denver case was frustrated by the tepid police response to his stolen vehicle and told dispatchers that same night that he was armed and had to act on his own. New York City this month began handing out 500 free AirTags to fight auto theft and carjackings. Many police departments recommend AirTags, but they also tout anti-theft devices such as The Club steering wheel lock. Car thefts in 30 major cities jumped by 59% from 2019 to 2022, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Council on Criminal Justice.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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