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(AP) -- When Baby Jesus disappeared last year from a Nativity scene on the lawn of the Wellington, Fla., community center, village officials didn't follow a star to locate him.
A GPS device mounted inside the life-size ceramic figurine led sheriff's deputies to a nearby apartment, where it was found face down on the carpet. An 18-year-old woman was arrested in the theft.
Giving up on old-fashioned padlocks and trust, a number of churches, synagogues, governments and ordinary citizens are turning to technology to protect holiday displays from pranks or prejudice.
About 70 churches and synagogues eager to avoid the December police blotter jumped at a security company's offer of free use of GPS systems and hidden cameras this month to guard their mangers and menorahs.
Others, like the Herrera family of Richland Hills, Texas, took matters into their own hands. Upset after their teeter-totter was stolen, the family trained surveillance cameras on their yard and was surprised when footage showed a teenage girl stealing a baby Jesus worth almost $500. Police have obtained the tape.
"They took the family Jesus," said Gloria Herrera, 48, a Catholic. "How can anybody do that?"
For two consecutive years, thieves made off with the baby Jesus figurine in Wellington, a well-off village of 60,000 in Palm Beach County, Fla. The ceramic original, donated by a local merchant, was made in Italy and worth about $1,800, said John Bonde, Wellington's director of operations.
So last year, officials took a GPS unit normally used to track the application of mosquito spray and implanted it in the latest replacement figurine. After that one disappeared, sheriff's deputies quickly tracked it down.
Sensing opportunity in that kind of success story, New York-based BrickHouse Security is offering up to 200 nonprofit religious institutions a free month's use of security cameras and LightningGPS products it distributes.
Chief executive officer Todd Morris said the idea was born after a few churches asked about one-month rentals instead of longer contracts that are the norm. The first 20 or so applications came from synagogues, he said.
Rabbi Yochonon Goldman of Lubavitch of Center City, a Philadelphia-area branch of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, signed up even though his previous biggest scare involved the wind knocking down a menorah.
"People are very security conscious, and this is simply a precaution," said Goldman, who will put a GPS on one menorah and a camera on another. "It's sad ... but it's the reality we're faced with."