Just 90 minutes after sending out an alert about a stolen laptop via a newly adopted electronic notification system, Santa Barbara police identified two suspects. Detective John Ingram said the computer was grabbed from a parked car on State Street last week. The suspects, a male and a female, have not been publicly named.
Using Nixle – a web-based service that allows users to receive emails and texts from participating law enforcement and government agencies – the SBPD broadcasted photos of the people in possession of the stolen laptop. The department started using Nixle only a few days prior, following in the footsteps of the County Office of Emergency Services, which has taken advantage of the service for the last two years.
About an hour-and-a-half after the photos were dispersed on January 27, the male suspect contacted police and identified himself. It’s not clear if he, or the female suspect, has been charged with any crime. They’re scheduled to meet with detectives this week.
The photos, explained Detective Ingram, were taken with the computer’s on-board camera after it was activated by anti-theft software. The program, offered to laptop and smart phone owners by the company Prey Project, can be turned on when the equipment goes missing. Prey Project’s software pinpoints a laptop’s exact location using GPS technology, and turns on the computer’s camera to take pictures without the user knowing it.
The images are beamed from the laptop to Prey Project, which then passes them to the customer, who is able to then forward them to police. Ingram said anti-theft software has helped identify and prosecute at least six other suspects in similar theft cases.
[UPDATE, January 31]: Both people depicted in the SBPD’s Nixle report on the stolen laptop are no longer considered suspects in the theft, police spokesperson Sgt. Riley Harwood said. The male subject was interviewed by detectives on January 31, and both he and his female companion were cleared of any wrongdoing. The case is still being investigated. “We again thank everyone who assisted in quickly identifying these subjects,” said Harwood in a prepared statement. “It has allowed detectives to move forward with this case and to now focus their investigative efforts on other leads.”