WALNUT CREEK (KRON) – It’s a problem all over the Bay Area – smash and grab auto thefts.

Law enforcement is stepping up patrols at busy shopping centers this holiday season and also taking it a step further to stop the would-be thieves.

Around the holidays is when police see a spike in auto burglaries.

What the thieves don’t know is what they may be stealing belongs to the police.

Any of these vehicles could be part of the Walnut Creek Police Department’s bait decoy vehicle program. 

From parking garages, commercial lots to residential neighborhoods, vehicles are strategically parked in highly targeted areas within the city.

Inside the decoy vehicle, high-end objects in plain view, typical targets for auto burglars, 

“Backpacks, suitcases with laptops, gaming devices,” Lieutenant James Rafter said. 

Police want to keep the details under wraps so criminals don’t know what to look for.

But inside the bait item is a GPS tracker, once it moves, dispatch is notified and they send an officer to track the stolen goods.

“This program has been in existence for a number of years but every year it grows and I can say this year the program is very robust,” Rafter said. 

Lt. James Rafter with Walnut Creek police won’t tell us how many arrests there’s been but he says the program helps deter vehicle burglaries from happening in the city.

“They’re very surprised when we catch them. They’re very surprised and I can tell you that we have not had a repeat offender from those that we have caught,” Rafter said. 

While some shoppers at Broadway Plaza are aware…

“Vehicle owners still leave the property in their cars. It still amazes me when I walk through a parking lot, how many vehicles have high-end valuables in the vehicles you can see,” Rafter said. 

Walnut Creek police have a program with teenagers who volunteer and train like officers to go to parking garages, lots and leave warning tickets to drivers who leave valuables in plain view, reminding them not to be a victim.