Frequent car break-ins in San Francisco are a major problem for the city’s residents and the SFPD. Prosecutors and police are unable to punish thieves due to a law demanding proof that a vehicle was locked at the time of a break-in, which most people are unable to provide. This has created a loophole that lets thieves go free, but San Francisco residents are fighting back with glitter bombs and clever devices, which make it easy to identify thieves.
One of these residents is former Apple product designer Mark Rober, whose tech outfit, CrunchLabs, got their start fighting porch pirates in California with elaborate devices that record audio and video footage, as well as providing GPS tracking, to catch people stealing packages off front porches. Rober then moved onto making similar glitter bombs to lure in car thieves, according to SF Gate:
The way glitter bombing works is wonderfully straightforward: After Rober hides the mechanism in backpacks or luggage, thieves broke into his car, making off with the low-hanging fruit. Then, using compressed gas, a bike inflator and motor, the booby trap ejects biodegradable glitter and fart spray onto the offender…
But you don’t have to take SF Gate’s word for it. You can watch the wonderfully elaborate devices that Rober and crew came up with on his YouTube channel:
From the video, it’s obvious Rober isn’t some amateur making adhoc glitter bombs to slightly inconvenience thieves in the break-ins, which go beyond individual criminals. Rober explains (in other videos) that there are basically networks of thieves working in shifts, covering different parts of the city. They take stolen goods to fences who buy the items but discard of anything not of value, including passports and plane tickets belonging to victims — who tend to be tourists and out-of-towners.
Rober designed a glitter bomb that goes into a backpack, which is outfitted with onboard cameras and microphones just like his glitter bombs designed to stop porch thieves. SF Gate adds that upon realizing the glitter bomb pack was bait “most people chucked the backpack back onto the street before much damage could be done, others hung onto them just long enough.”
Presumably, SF Gate is referring to thieves hanging on to the backpacks just long enough to be marked by the odor emitted by the devices and, of course, the glitter, which is notoriously hard to remove all traces of from on one’s skin and clothing. This makes it easier to identify the thief, although it’s unclear if the Rober’s glitter bombs yielded a successful prosecution for thieves. At least they work as deterrents for now, until San Francisco can rein in its break-in problem.