The story of LoJack, the car-theft recovery system, is a strikingly local tale: a Medfield selectman and police commissioner, concerned about the safety of police officers, comes up with a technology that changes law enforcement practices worldwide. William R. Reagan, who died recently at 78, worried that police would hurt themselves in high-speed chases or traffic stops gone awry. So in the 1970s, he devised a Stolen Vehicle Recovery System: a hidden box inside a car that could be registered with police departments, then activated to emit a traceable radio signal. With that technology, Reagan eventually launched a Canton-based company — named to sound like the opposite of “hijack” — whose tracking computers are now used by 1,800 law enforcement agencies in more than 30 countries.
It’s a prime example of how one simple idea can take off, and how a technology designed for one specific purpose can lead to creative uses. Today, LoJack products are used to recover cargo, laptop computers, and even people in danger of wandering off unprotected: a LoJack-powered bracelet called “SafetyNet” is marketed for use in tracking people with autism, Alzheimer’s, and other cognitive disabilities. Reagan might not have envisioned the breadth of his company’s success when he designed his early theft-recovery device. But his legacy has been transmitted across the world.