Washington D.C. Cops Hope Apple AirTags Will Solve Car Theft Problem

Washington D.C. Cops Hope Apple AirTags Will Solve Car Theft Problem

Police in Washington D.C. are giving away Apple AirTags in an effort to curb car thefts, which have more than doubled in the last year, according to WAMU. The Mayor of D.C., Muriel Bowser, calls it a “pilot program” in which police are using all tools at their disposal to keep the capital city safe — including consumer electronics whose remit was never intended to be public safety.

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The program comes after the Mayor’s office and Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia had already handed out steering wheel locks to help prevent thefts targeting Kia and Hyundai vehicles that are easy to steal due to a lack of engine immobilizers — common anti-theft devices that Hyundai and Kia decided were unnecessary in certain recent cars. Per WAMU:

Wednesday’s initiative is the latest in a series of anti-theft and theft-prevention measures taken by the city, as instances of car theft have risen over the past year. Motor vehicle theft has increased 101% from this time in 2022, according to D.C. police data. D.C. has recorded more than 5,800 motorvehicle thefts as of Nov. 1.

Over the summer, Bowser and Hyundai offered an “anti-theft” clinic for Hyundai owners at RFK Stadium; Hyundais and Kias make up a large chunk of vehicles targeted and stolen in the D.C. region due to systems on some models that made them easier to steal. Videos on TikTok and other social media platforms have shown how something as simple as a USB cable can be used to hotwire Kias and Hyundais built between 2010 and 2021 that still use a typical key and not a fob or push-button.

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The car thefts plaguing the city are not exclusively targeting vehicles from Korean automakers, although the spike in related crimes has been attributed, in part, to the ease with which thieves can break into and steal these cars.

Photo: Government of the District of Columbia

Police held a series of clinics to teach residents how to use the Apple AirTags. Residents, however, must prove they live in areas of the city that have been most affected by the thefts. The MPD reportedly taught people how to install the AirTags, which Mayor Bowser calls “digital tracking tags,” as WAMU reports:

At each event, D.C. police officers will help install the tags and get them registered on someone’s phone. (During a brief demonstration on Wednesday, a D.C. officer “installed” the tag by saying you can sort of place it anywhere in the car.) The tag’s location will not be accessible to police; residents would have to share the location information with law enforcement should their car be stolen. It works similarly to any other type of FindMy service on Apple products.

It’s unclear what residents who take advantage of the free AirTags are supposed to do in case of a theft; police probably don’t want people going after car thieves, so it’s likely victims will have to work with police, providing information from their phones to facilitate the police work. There are a few concerns here, not the least of which is giving police any kind of access to private data on your handset, but the tradeoff may be worth it.

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