Bear Collar Collars More Than Just Bears

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Sometimes you just get fed up. Officers of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, frustrated by several recent burglaries at their Albuquerque office, devised a new use for an old bear collar. After two break-ins in the last two months, officers came up with a plan to help New Mexico State Police catch the thieves.

Sargeant Chris Chadwick, whose truck was broken into in October, wondered if there was some way to track the culprits. Using an old bear collar that needed refurbishing, officers removed the transmitter from the collar and slipped it into a broken compact disc player. The bait was set Nov. 7 in the same shed that had been the target several times. Now it was time to wait.

"Never in our wildest dreams did we expect a chance to test out our idea so quick," said Chadwick. Sometime during the wee hours of Nov. 8 or 9, thieves drove a truck through a heavy-duty chain link gate, demolishing it in the process, and broke into the shed and a back office building. Their loot included a shotgun, a television, money, Hunter Education equipment and ­ more important for the plan to work ­ the compact disc player with the hidden transmitter.

The break-in was discovered the afternoon of Nov. 9. Department pilot Tom Sansom flew over Albuquerque the next morning and picked up the tale-tale "beep, beep, beep" on his receiver. Homing in on it just as he has done hundreds of times with bear, deer and elk, he narrowed the location of the transmitter to a few square blocks in downtown Albuquerque.

On the ground, Department officers and State Police took over the task. They quickly narrowed the transmitter location to one of two houses. Requesting permission to enter each house, it was in the second that Chadwick spotted the compact disc player. Armed with that information, State Police began their investigation and interviews. The trail soon led to a downtown motel, where police arrested 38-year-old Merle Lee Baker on several charges, including aggravated burglary. As of Nov. 13, Baker was still in jail on a $15,000 bond. Police still are looking for an accomplice.

"The whole investigation was a team effort," said Chadwick. "Besides several Department officers, the cooperation and efforts of State Police made this possible. Sometimes you just get lucky, but without the plan being in place, luck doesn't get you very far." New security measures also are being installed at the office.