One city is taking an unconventional approach to catching home invaders - using "bait houses"

Houses in a neighborhood by is licensed under Canva
ATHERTON, CA - The city of Atherton is taking an unconventional approach to catching those responsible for the increase in home burglaries in their community.

Located in the Bay area, the affluent city in San Mateo County is currently made up of just over 6,600 residents. This number is down from 2020 recorded census data, which had the population at 7,165 residents.

While Atherton’s crime rate is lower than many areas in California, the city has seen a dramatic increase in home burglaries in 2024 according to NBC News. In response, around 50 Atherton homes have been turned into “bait houses.” Atherton Police have placed tracking devices on items in these homes that thieves are most likely to take in a burglary.

“The idea behind it is once one of these items starts being moved, we will get a notification at the police department, which is going to start our response,” Cmdr. Dan Larsen with the Atherton Police Department said.

As part of their response, the Atherton Police Department will follow the tracking device via a drone. From there, the getaway vehicle can be detected by some of the 50 license plate readers that are mounted around the city. These readers are also able to give a vehicle description to the police.

Residents are on board with this idea to combat the growing issue that their community is facing. “Basically, I don’t like surveillance much, but I think this is an effective scheme,” John Maulbetsch, an Atherton homeowner and resident said.

Police have made it clear that they are not trying to tempt burglars. Bait houses are not designed to work the same as bait cars do.

“We are not setting up homes to where, ‘Hey! Come here. This is the house that we want you to burglarize.’ It is a home where we’re working with the community and they’re saying ‘Hey! We’re interested in this program. We’re going into their homes, embedding those tracking devices on stuff that is already existing inside of the property, and once it gets taken, then we start our investigation,” Cmdr. Larsen explained.

With more homeowners wanting to participate in the sting, Atherton Police say that they plan to create a rotation of houses where the bait is placed.
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