‘Bad everywhere’: How DC is using Bluetooth devices in response to rise in carjackings

Michele Dedeaux said that when her daughter’s best friend had her car stolen a few days ago, she luckily had an Apple AirTag inside.

The devices use Bluetooth technology to connect to drivers’ phones. The device pinged, Dedeaux said, and the friend was told to go to the nearest police station. The car was eventually located and returned, but despite being gone for just 24 hours, the windows on the car had been tinted and the tag had been stolen.

The frustration with the rise in carjackings across D.C. has left Dedeaux and many other residents taking every precaution they can in order to stay safe. Learning of her daughter’s friend’s experience motivated Dedeaux to be one of the many residents who stopped by Ballou High School on Tuesday night to get an AirTag or Tile device.

D.C. police have been issuing the devices for free in some neighborhoods, and are hopeful that they’ll help police find stolen cars quickly. Demand was high Tuesday, with the line spanning several blocks just after the 4:30 p.m. distribution start time.

A D.C. police spokesman told WTOP that the city doesn’t have the exact number of devices the agency has issued to residents since the program started.

“I’m so excited to see so many people in this neighborhood who are standing up to say, ‘No, we’re not going to tolerate this. We’re going to stay in and we’re gonna fight back.’ And this is what we should have been doing all along, so I’m very excited,” Dedeaux said.

There were 959 carjackings in D.C. last year, according to police data, up from 484 in 2022. There were 425 reported in 2021.

Cynthia Long wanted to take advantage of the city’s distribution program to make sure she’d be able to get her car back safely if it was stolen. However, Long doesn’t suspect the rise in carjackings is unique to D.C.

“It’s just something in the atmosphere that it’s been unleashed,” Long said. “It’s all over. It’s just bad everywhere.”

Once D.C. police verified addresses of the residents in line, they helped them pair their devices with an AirTag for Apple users and a Tile for those with Android phones.

“People want this,” resident Vincent Getty said. “The word has spread like wildfire, and people want this.”

One woman said her nephew’s car “just got stolen yesterday out of his father’s driveway, and he lives in Clinton. Maryland, Clinton, D.C. — it’s all over.”

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Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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