LoJack: Why police and the Sheriff’s helicopter were searching for a parked Lexus in the Central District Saturday night

Saturday night, Seattle Police were searching through the streets just south of E Madison as the King County Sheriff’s helicopter roared above. The search went on for 30 minutes as officers combed the area, street by street. They must have been looking for somebody — or something — very important.

They were. They got a LoJack hit.

“We want to find stolen cars,” an SPD spokesperson tells CHS.

Details of how exactly the system works are a bit of a secret — “We don’t want people working around it,” the SPD representative says — but here are the basics.

For a few hundred dollars up to around $700 depending on the features a customer wants, car owners purchase the LoJack sensor devices that are “hidden in your vehicle by a certified technician” and then registered in the LoJack database. If your car is stolen, you activate the sensor which then serves as sort of beacon, broadcasting its location. Because of the cost, the system tends to be used mostly on fancy, expensive vehicles.

Saturday night around 8 PM, an officer on patrol near 18th and Cherry got a “hit” on the  LoJack receiver the company provides to local law enforcement agencies. The devices are paid for by the company and installed in many SPD vehicles. SPD dispatch was then able to look up what type of car generated the ping. Officers Saturday night were on the search for a red 2018 Lexus SUV recently stolen from a Bellevue owner.

The SPD spokesperson said the LoJack search requires multiple officers to simultaneously triangulate the general location of the pings. Once it’s narrowed down, he said, the location provided by the system is very specific — down to the backyard.

Saturday night’s search also grew thanks to the King County Sheriff. Its Guardian One helicopter is available as a shared resource with SPD and was already up for the evening and available to assist in the search.

Around 8:30 PM, police had narrowed the hunt down to 13th and Columbia where the LoJack pings were strongest. There they found a Lexus SUV, indeed, but the parked, empty car was silver, not red — apparently the database had the wrong info. With the car safely in hand, the helicopter buzzed off and the night south of Capitol Hill returned to quiet.

The spokesperson says that while LoJack searches require a lot of resources, they help get stolen cars back. He also said that SPD’s increased use of license plate readers is even more effective at turning up stolen vehicles — and nobody has to pay extra for a service like LoJack. The licenses plate readers also provide a specific location for finding the stolen vehicles meaning that multi-officer, helicopter-assisted searches for stolen cars like Saturday night’s don’t happen as often. That’s better for stolen car owners and neighborhood residents. But it’s a little bit of a letdown for police. Searching for pings from fancy stolen cars is kind of fun, the spokesperson said.

As for owners of stolen bikes feeling left out of it all, try dropping a GPS tracker in your frame. The department spokesperson said SPD would be happy with the extra work searching for your tracked bike. “We would gladly do that all day.”


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