Minneapolis startup turns to technology to curb car thieves
Fed up with the rising number of carjackings and stolen vehicles in the Twin Cities, a south Minneapolis startup is fighting back.
Called TC Nighthawks, the company sells small GPS-equipped tags for cars so they can be located if reported as stolen. With the help of an app, the tag can beam information within minutes to police, who can follow via computers in real time to track the stolen vehicle and recover it.
“We are concerned about our streets,” said Lacey Gauthier,who launched the company after hearing from residents in the Longfellow, Nokomis and Powderhorn neighborhoods. “We want our neighborhoods to be how they were when we were growing up.”
The first batch of GPS tags sold on the TC Nighthawks website were to be delivered to customers Friday. The company had ordered 200 of the devices and hoped to sell them all within six months, but “they are selling faster than we thought,” Gauthier said.
John Bean, of Eagan, will be among the first to get a tag. He had a classic 1955 Chevy stolen from his workplace last summer, and the vehicle has not been recovered. He heard about TC Nighthawks and decided to give it a try.
“It’s kind of like cheap insurance,” Bean said. “They can trace it right away. With an active ID tag, you can go find it. It seems pretty cool. Car thefts are up. Hopefully this will deter them.”
TC Nighthawks next plans to open a retail outlet in a tobacco shop at 46th Street and Hiawatha Avenue, with splashy ads featuring local boxer Floyd Hodges on social media platforms. Gauthier also has been in touch with ABC to possibly showcase her product on the reality show “Shark Tank.”
She started the project when her 16-year-old daughter, Tanisha Robinson, asked if placing small tags on cars could curb the epidemic of vehicle thefts. There were 1,042 such reports in the first 2 1⁄2 months of 2022 in Minneapolis, including 117 carjackings. The trend continued this year, with 1,906 motor vehicle thefts as of Wednesday, including 63 carjackings, according to city data posted online.
Gauthier, a former crisis counselor and bar owner, assembled a team of technology experts, security specialists and administrators of the Minneapolis Scanner Facebook page to launch TC Nighthawks. The company’s motto: “We’ll keep one eye open … so you can close both of yours.”
The GPS tag is hidden in the vehicle so thieves are unlikely to know they are being tracked, Gauthier said. Customers pay $199 for a yearly subscription; the price will go up to $259 on April 1.
If a customer’s car is stolen, they report it to police, get a case number and immediately call TC Nighthawks. With an app developed in-house, a Nighthawks dispatcher sends an email to the officer assigned to the case that includes a link to a screenshot of the stolen car’s location.
Dispatchers can help officers zero in on a vehicle and speed the stop and vehicle recovery.
To augment the live feed, TC Nighthawks also can launch a drone with a camera to possibly capture suspects’ faces and provide a “bird’s eye view” video for police, said drone operations manager Vaughn Clark.
As part of the service, Nighthawks has a team of towing companies that will retrieve stolen cars and store them for 24 hours, giving owners time to pick them up.
That was a big selling point for Tim Sundquist of north Minneapolis, who bought a Nighthawks tag after his wife saw them advertised on Facebook.
“That was attractive to me,” he said. “They have a team of their own people trying to get vehicles back and not waiting for police to get it.”
Sundquist hasn’t had a car stolen, but his wallet was taken from his car while he was just 15 feet away from it. Installing the tag, he said, is a proactive move.
“I see how close the potential is,” he said. “I would like something to track the car if I lose it.”
Gauthier said the immediate goal is to alert law enforcement agencies across the metro area about the technology and get them onboard. But she said efforts to help victims who have had their vehicles stolen or carjacked won’t stop there. The company plans to set up social media pages to post information about all stolen cars, including those not covered with one of its tags.
TC Nighthawks members also plan to attend court hearings for those arrested on charges of vehicle theft or carjacking. Gauthier said many perpetrators are teens and young adults. “We need the judges to understand the impact” on victims, she said.
TC Nighthawks has caught the attention of Luther Ranheim, who is running for the Minneapolis City Council’s 12th Ward seat, covering many of the city’s southeastern neighborhoods where cars have been stolen.
“These are private citizens stepping forward to address a problem and take the pressure off the police,” Ranheim said. “I love the creativity. They saw a problem and said, ‘We are going to do something about it.’ “