Police Credit Use of Bait Car In Arrest of Break-In Suspect

By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 8, 2008

The teenager scoped out a few parked cars in his neighborhood until he hit the jackpot: one with a laptop computer and a cellphone in plain sight on the front seat.

By smashing the window and grabbing the goods, he was taking the bait. The car belonged to D.C. police, and they put it there in hopes of catching a thief who had been breaking into cars lately on Capitol Hill and in nearby areas. And now they've got a suspect, police said yesterday.

The arrest took place this week in the 1000 block of Third Street NE. When police told the teenager to put his hands up, the laptop and cellphone fell out of his jacket.

Investigators said they are attempting to determine whether Michael Timberlake, 18, is responsible for numerous break-ins targeting cars with items such as Global Positioning System equipment, iPods, cameras and computers. Meanwhile, they are reminding the public to keep car doors locked and valuables either out of the car or out of sight.

Police have been using bait cars, patrols and other tactics to counter a rise in car break-ins across the city. So far this year, 1,619 cars have been broken into, up 26 percent from this time last year.

"It's generally a small number of people doing these break-ins," said Cmdr. David Kamperin, head of the 1st Police District, where Timberlake was arrested.

Violent crime is declining so far this year -- down by 5 percent -- but property crime is up 7 percent compared with this time last year.

Four of the city's seven police districts are dealing with an increase in car break-ins. In the 1st District, police have reports of 270 thefts from cars, a 12 percent jump from this time last year.

Timberlake, of the 1800 block of H Place NE, was charged with theft from auto. The total value of the laptop, cellphone and broken car window is $770, police said.

At the time of his arrest, Timberlake was awaiting trial in another case. Last summer, he tried to steal a car and was charged with second-degree theft and attempted unauthorized use of a vehicle, authorities said.

Kamperin said the bait cars have been in use for a few years in the District and elsewhere in the Washington region. He said police have had some success with them. Investigators will generally park in areas known for the thefts, place valuables inside and leave car doors unlocked. "We don't want a broken window every time," Kamperin said.

Then, the officers watch and wait. Once they see a suspect enter the car and take the property, they make their move.

"It's like going fishing. If there's nothing in the lake, you're just having fun in the sun," he said. "But if you know the lake is stocked, you'll catch one."

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