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Police use secret technology to track bank robbers

September 17, 1997

BALTIMORE (AP) _ Forget the dye bombs and marked bills: Baltimore banks are chasing robbers with electronic tracking devices hidden in packs of money.

The Police Department has kept the devices, in use for a month, a closely guarded secret in a city with one of the country’s highest bank robbery rates. But one suspect was caught Aug. 21 with the help of the device and another suspect was tracked unsuccessfully Tuesday, The (Baltimore) Sun reported today.

While not acknowledging the use of microchips, John Bowers, executive vice president of the Maryland Bankers Association, said the microchips are ``trying to expose banks to cutting-edge technology.″

The device, used in California for more than a decade, replaces dye packs that exploded, covering money and suspect in ink.

Bank officials, police, FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office refused to comment. Robert Weinhold, a city police spokesman, would not confirm whether the devices are used in Baltimore ``because there are officer safety and operational confidentiality issues.″

The Sun, citing unidentified sources, named the microchip supplier as ProNet Tracking Systems of Dallas. Company officials did not return repeated calls in recent weeks and police said it is a violation of department regulations to discuss the contract.

ProNet markets ``radio-activated electronic tracking security systems primarily to financial institutions throughout the United States,″ according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents. ``The system consists of radio transmitters, or `TracPacs,′ which are disguised in items of value.″

In 1995, the latest year for which national figures are available, 291 banks were robbed in Maryland, putting it fourth behind California with 2,012, Florida with 556 and New York with 315.

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