GPS, hidden cameras watching over Baby Jesus

There's more than a higher power guarding the Baby Jesus on many public displays for the holidays.

There's also GPS.

Churches, synagogues and other places that display holiday scenes are taking a high-tech approach to an old holiday tradition: theft. They're embedding Jesus figures, menorahs and Santa statues with global positioning system satellite tracking devices.

St. Marks Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn, Ill. is installing the devices in each of the figurines in its 40-year-old nativity scene. There is Joseph, Mary, Baby Jesus, one wise man, a camel, a donkey and a sheep. There used to be a cow, but it was "borrowed" two years ago and hasn't been returned, says Rev. George Smith.

Local lore has it that two of the church's wisemen were stolen about 10 years ago and later found on a ski slope, he says.

This year, when a parishioner alerted Smith about a free offer for GPS devices, the church took it.

"Given the storied history of the nativity scene, we were interested in seeing if having a GPS would deter people from 'borrowing' from it," Smith says.

BrickHouse Security in New York City offered churches and synagogues free GPS and cameras to protect their displays this season. Seventy have signed up so far. About 24 of them are also installing security cameras.

In Merrick, N.Y., the Chabad Center for Jewish Life is putting GPS in its 8-foot menorah on display in a park.

Rabbi Shimon Kramer says he's using the extra security after hearing from a fellow rabbi who had a menorah stolen two years ago from the front of his Massachusetts synagogue.

"We haven't had any problems," he says. "But it's better to be safe than sorry."

The gadgets work. Two years ago, Baby Jesus was stolen from Wellington, Fla.'s, display. So last year, village workers opened the back of a new Baby Jesus, rigged up a GPS device, sealed it inside, painted it over and dressed the figure.

When the ceramic doll was stolen a third time, police used the GPS signal to track it down in 12 hours at the home of a teenager who said he got it from another teen at a party. An 18-year-old girl was charged.

This year, the village of 60,000 added security cameras.

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