Crime Watch: Buying Protection with Radar Detectors and LoJack

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Nov 20, 2012

NEW YORK CITY—I am at “Wine, Dine and Demo,” a unique Manhattan event in which reporters weave between food/liquor stations and tech demonstrations. There will be, and were, apps. There was Buncee, Cozi, Cricket, Flayvr, Kobo, iRobot, Sling, Pixi—sounds like the seven dwarfs. One place had a big banner that read, “Watch TV Anywhere!” Perish the thought.

I don’t have much interest in tablets (even watching TV on them), or new cases for my iPhone—I’m a car writer. It has to have wheels. That’s why I was drawn to the Escort booth. I owned an Escort radar detector for years before I realized I didn’t drive fast enough to really need one. I’ve tended to think of radar detectors as somehow cheating the system, even if they are perfectly legal. I'd like to think that I act exactly the same when I first spot the cop as when he's long gone in my rear view. Of course, that's the best version of me we're talking about.

Ray Magliozzi and I see eye to eye about radar detectors: "  I guess I'm morally opposed to them," he says. "If I thought that law-abiding citizens were being pulled over for no good reason, then that would be different  We all know that that the vast majority of radar detectors are owned by habitual speeders who feel they're much better drivers than the rest of us, and as such it's their God-given right to endanger the rest of us." 'Nuff said! What we think won't stop people from using them, though.

Ron Gividen of Escort says this app is your passport to ticket-free living. (Jim Motavalli photo)
Ron Gividen of Escort says this app is your passport to ticket-free living. (Jim Motavalli photo)

I had the impression that radar detectors were yesterday's tech. Actually, they’re still holding their own, and are illegal for car drivers only in Virginia now. Some states ban their use in certain commercial vehicles; and my state of Connecticut rescinded its ban in 1992. It turns out that cops have by no means given up on trying to catch people speeding—it’s a great way for towns to line the public treasury. Remember those movies with grinning Southern sheriffs who collar people driving through town? They’re actually out there! Such players as Beltronics, Cobra, Escort, Whistler and Valentine are still out there, too. The market has been somewhat flat, and what it needed is a killer app.

There are speed traps (with a car and an officer), mobile cameras, pulse guns, speed and red-light cameras. There is K, KA, KU and X radar bands, laser and more. I didn’t know what a red-light camera was, but they’re built into traffic lights, and they detect if you didn’t fully stop before hitting the gas pedal. You get a photo of your car and a bill.

“With just one red-light camera on I5 in Orange County, California, they take in $1 million a month,” said Ron Gividen, media director of Cincinnati-based Escort. He was standing in front of a booth waving an iPad displaying Escort Live and a GPS map of New York, dotted with red pinpoints. Each of these was a report from someone on the “Escort Live” network of some kind of speed trap. “The red ones are reports that are 20 minutes or less old,” said Gividen. “Orange is 20 to 40 minutes, and yellow is less than an hour.” I reckoned not with the nuclear reaction that resulted when the app met the iPhone. Escort has one helluva app! Here's a close-up on video:

The display is on your own Apple or Android smart phone or tablet, sent via a magical union of Bluetooth, your radar detector and the network. When an alert comes in, a graphic “Caution, laser detected!” message comes on the screen and a “sexy female DJ” warns you verbally. Road accidents, detours and traffic reports are also part of it. It’s a live social network for the road.

You need a special charging cord that has the Bluetooth, but you don’t necessarily have to buy a radar detector—it works with older models. The system with the cord and the subscription to Escort Live is $99.95, with $19.95 annually starting in the third year of service. Packages with the radar detector start at $299.

This message comes up with an "FM deejay" advising caution on the audio channel.
This message comes up with an "FM deejay" advising caution on the audio channel.

I don’t need this, though it was cool to look at. I’d rather just drive slower. What I do need is LoJack for my laptop. Just the other day I was reading the “police reports” in the local weekly, and there was something like three reports of people getting laptops stolen out of their cars. What is it with people leaving computers in their cars? I’d never do that, even for five minutes.

I walked from Escort to LoJack, where the very nice Andrea Holland explained that her company Absolute Software had licensed the very recognizable LoJack name for the new product, called--duh--LoJack for Laptops. The auto business, with the aid of a war room out of 24 (one imagines), finds stolen cars through an electronic signal. This report came out of Florida a few months ago: “Three people were arrested Tuesday after St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office investigators located a stolen Toyota sport utility vehicle in Fort Pierce using its LoJack vehicle tracking and recovery system, according to affidavits released Wednesday.” Bet those car thieves (the mug shots are on the website) were surprised! In Santa Maria, California, they found a thievery ring of eight criminal masterminds in a Motel 6—well, where else would they be? The Ritz?

Lojack for Laptops' Andrea Holland: A whole ex-FBI/CIA team looking for your computer. (Jim Motavalli photo)
Lojack for Laptops' Andrea Holland: A whole ex-FBI/CIA team looking for your computer. (Jim Motavalli photo)

LoJack for Laptops taps into what Holland described as a team of Investigative Theft Recovery Officers, “former FBI and CIA officers,” she said. David Petraeus might be looking for a job. I can’t imagine these former Daniel-Craig-as-007 types swooping down on a lost Acer. Some 450 laptops are recovered every month through the software, and Absolute Software works with 6,755 police agencies.

Have you seen the “This Guy Has My MacBook” blog? Great stuff, with actual “faces of evil.” And totally LoJack at work.

Even if LoJack doesn’t get your computer back, it can remotely lock it so it becomes a doorstop or delete all your data to prevent identity theft. Opt for the premium service, and it provides “historical locations” of where your laptop's been—the basic service only says where it is now, on a GPS map. A standard license is $39.99 for a year, or $59.99 premium.

If the team doesn’t recover a premium user’s machine within 36 hours, they give you up to $1,000 towards a new computer. “Sooner or later, even the most savvy crook is going to connect to Wi-Fi,” Holland said, “and when they do we’ve got ‘em.”

Now this I can use. I haven’t actually lost a laptop, but I did manage to accidentally leave a pair of very nice cameras on a train. Too bad they weren’t LoJacked. I’d at least know where they were.

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