Police bait criminals with GPS-tagged bikes

Many students choose bikes to get around campus, and high rates of bike theft can be a side effect.

After number complaints about bike theft the Phoenix police department started setting up bait bikes around the valley area.  The police sit and watch the bikes until someone tries to steal one. (Photo by Ana Ramirez)

After number complaints about bike theft the Phoenix police department started setting up bait bikes around the valley area. The police sit and watch the bikes until someone tries to steal one. (Photo by Ana Ramirez)

Police have encouraged students to register their bikes and have turned to “bait bikes,” which have GPS trackers that activate if they’re moved from their initial locations. Police leave the bikes in high-risk areas, like light rail stations.

Tempe Police Sgt. Sean Still, part of the Downtown Patrol Bureau’s bike team, said police made 15 bike theft arrests between July 1 and Feb. 9.

“We do focus specific theft prevention efforts on high bike traffic areas, including light rail stops,” Still said.

Landscape architecture major Andres Virata said he thinks the bait bikes are effective to some extent.

“If they were able to dress it up better, it would be more effective,” he said. “I’ve just never heard of anyone actually being caught by one.”

Hans Hughes, a Downtown Phoenix Partnership ambassador who has recently had two of his bikes stolen, said the community needs to be more informed of ways in which to prevent bike theft rather than having to get police involved all the time.

Downtown Phoenix Partnership ambassadors are concierges that walk around downtown and answer questions about the area.

Hughes, who often works at Taylor Mall on the Downtown campus, is an avid bike rider.

“We need to be proactive in creating our own systems of security, which would include the community taking action and starting to look out for each other,” Hughes said. “It’s easy to recognize whose bike is whose after a while, so if people can just keep an eye out, it could really help the problem.”

Chemical engineering major Tyson Tsutsumi said bait bikes might have more potential if they were more widely utilized.

“I haven’t seen a real change, but if they used more bait bikes, I feel like that would eventually make bike theft less of an issue,” he said.

Tempe Police use many enforcement tools to prevent and combat crime across the city and its downtown area, police spokeswoman Molly Enright said in an email.

The department, an official partner agency with the National Bike Registry, urges the Tempe community to always report stolen bikes to police and to get all bikes registered through police departments, even those that may have been stolen.

Enright said the National Bike Registry reported that law enforcement recovers more than 48 percent of stolen bicycles each year. However, only 5 percent of those are returned, because it is often difficult to determine ownership of the bicycle.

While it is advisable to register bicycles with the National Bike Registry, this only offers a chance of recovering a stolen bike instead of preventing the theft to begin with, Enright said.

 

Reach the reporter at rrocklif@asu.edu or follow him @RRockliffe