Police in Nation’s Capitol Use Apple Air Tags to Fight Car Thefts

Published: November 30, 2023

Pilot program launched to help locate stolen vehicles

With motor vehicle theft up 100% in Washington, DC, the city’s police force earlier this month offered area residents a tracking device from Apple to locate stolen vehicles.

Washington, DC’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) launched a pilot program to provide its residents with free Apple Air Tags to help track their cars. The program is intended to aid car owners as well as public officials in locating vehicles that might be stolen.

The tracking tag distribution program from the police, which offered Tile trackers from Life360 as well, provides assistance for residents to connect those trackers to their personal phones. To alleviate concerns about privacy issues, city officials said the police will not have access to tracking data unless requested in the case of a theft.

Free Service

Air Tags and Tile tags leverage Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) technology to connect car owners with their vehicles. The tags transmit to area smart phones, and those transmissions are sent to a server to indicate the approximate real time location of the tag, based on the Apple and Android phones in its vicinity.

The MPD distributed the free, tracking tags to residents in specific areas of the city where vehicles are being stolen at the highest rates— Police Service Areas 106, 501, 502, 603, 605, and 606. Officials did not disclose how many of the tracking tags they had to give away.

But on the first night the tags were offered, there was a constant line of cars lined for more than two hours around the block with drivers waiting for the giveaway when the program was launched in the First, Fifth and Sixth Districts.

Access Questions

Police say if a car is stolen drivers should call 911 and can choose to share the tracking location with information with officers. MPD says the department will not have access to the data on its own.

“Because they have the ability to be tracked we can kind of see what path they went,” explained Sergeant Anthony Walsh. “Are there more cameras that we could look at on buildings that maybe identify who took the property so we can make more apprehensions?”

Police said information about future distributions will be announced on their website.