Victim says GPS can locate stolen laptop, questions lack of RCMP response
A Metrotown-area man is upset that Burnaby RCMP would not help him recover his stolen laptop even though he believes he could tell them where it had been taken.
Cory Russell, 26, returned to his home on Oct. 21 to find his Macbook laptop and a cellphone were missing, despite there being no signs of forced entry, and reported the incident to the police.
The next day, the Find My Mac software in his laptop alerted him on a website when the machine was turned on and pinpointed its apparent location on Google maps.
Russell raced to the location about 10 blocks away within 10 minutes and called police. About an hour and 20 minutes later, Burnaby RCMP officers arrived.
"When they got to me they said that they can't go into any house because they have higher priorities like saving people's lives and if they go in, they don't expect to get anything anyway, so they're not even going to bother. They just kind of left me standing there on the corner."
Russell said he has no idea why the officers weren't more helpful. "It's pretty damned clear when it's GPS (Global Positioning System) positioned and there's a report on a stolen laptop, I mean I don't even know what [more] grounds you need to go into a building to figure out where the piece of property is."
He said he once had an iPhone stolen in California and three police officers there helped him recover his property using similar technology.
Russell is still trying to figure out how the culprits gained entry into his home, and is increasing security measures. He was also trying to determine if he was insured since the laptop belonged to his girlfriend but it was taken from his home.
Burnaby RCMP Sgt. Gursharn Ranu said when officers responded to Russell's call the day after the theft, they discovered the laptop's location software was pointing to an apartment complex.
"It would be close to impossible to identify which unit the GPS sensor was coming from. This is the reason nothing further could be done without more information."
Russell confirmed it pointed to a three-storey building, apparently to a corner suite, adding by email, "this isn't a wild goose chase."
According to Apple user discussion groups, the Macbook does not come with a GPS but instead uses wi-fi networks in the area to operate its locator software.
But even with GPS receivers in cellphones and other devices, "their accuracy is limited," said Chris Thornton, a geomatics instructor at B.C. Institute of Technology. "They're not necessarily intended to be extremely precise measurement tools, or positioning tools."
It might tag to an address, "but if that address contains several buildings or is a very large building, then it's not going to be able to pinpoint within that building where it is," Thornton said.
Usually it's difficult to get a reliable signal inside a building since GPS relies on a line-of-sight connection with any of the 30 such satellites circling the globe. Large obstructions, such as a large tree, a building or being inside a building can make that signal less reliable and almost non-existent.
If the GPS pointed to a single-family house on a larger lot, it would be easier to pinpoint the location, he said. GPS in cellphones, for instance, is reliable to 10 to 20 metres.
"Just because there's a single location on a map doesn't mean to say it's an absolute location. It does come with a tolerance, shall we say, that does vary by a number of different criteria."