Bike theft down 45 percent after UCPD deploys ‘bait bikes’

Yinan Su/Staff

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Bike theft on campus has gone down 45 percent since UCPD began deploying “bait bikes” equipped with tracking systems that enable officers to locate the bikes after they are stolen.

UCPD consulted campus groups before implementing the “bait bike” program in January, and 31 bike thieves have been arrested as of July 7, according to a UCPD press release.

The devices used in bait bikes enable police departments to prevent more crimes than do single bike thefts, as 75 to 80 percent of the people apprehended for stealing bait bikes are repeat offenders, according to Jason Cecchettini, president of tracking-device developer Pegasus Technologies.

In 2014, 299 bikes were reported stolen on campus property to UCPD, resulting in the victims’ total loss of $133,000, according to the press release.

UCPD spokesperson Lt. Marc DeCoulode called the implementation of the program at UC Berkeley “very successful,” adding that the department is looking into ways to expand the program to cover other commonly stolen items, such as laptops.

But some are wary of bait bikes and see them as an entrapment, according to Robert Prinz, education director of Bike East Bay, a bicycle advocacy group in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

“We would much more prefer to reduce thefts without having to arrest people,” Prinz said, “(though) we will certainly help promote bait bike programs that are out there.”

Not all stolen bikes are reported because of a belief that the police are not concerned about theft of relatively inexpensive items, according to Prinz.

“The police really do care, and they actually do actively try to get bikes back to their owners,” he said, adding that many Bay Area cities spend a lot of time and money trying to return stolen bikes and storing unclaimed bikes.

Both UCPD and Berkeley Police Department have begun checking the serial numbers of stolen bikes with those in Bike Index, an online database where users can record their bike information. According to Bike Index’s website, the organization has registered about 50,000 bikes and matched about 2,500 stolen bikes to their owners.

“I used to work as a bike mechanic, and I was really frustrated by the fact that there wasn’t a way for me to give my customers their serial numbers effectively,” said Seth Herr, co-founder of Bike Index. “We have a number of ways that make it really easy to search for stolen bikes.”

The organization has partnered with more than 200 police departments, advocacy groups and bike shops nationally, including one bike shop and one bike cooperative in Berkeley.

The former UCPD bike registry system required students to bring their bikes to the UCPD office on Sproul Plaza and was not checked by other police departments, according to DeCoulode. Because other police departments also check Bike Index, it is more likely that a bike registered on the website will be returned if recovered off campus property.

UCPD has also been working with BPD to deploy bait bikes on the south side of campus, according to the press release, and has arrested five suspects for stealing bait bikes in the city.

Christine Ho, a rising junior at UC Berkeley, had three bikes stolen in one semester her first year of college.

“I come from a neighborhood that’s very bike friendly — nobody’s going to steal your shit — but coming to Berkeley is very different,” she said. “Bike theft is a huge deal.”

Contact Sally Littlefield at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @slittlefield3.

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  • Shutter

    I’d recommend going a step further than just busting the thieves. Let the tracking device run while the thief sells the bike, follow the trail wherever it leads. Individuals? Sure. But also if the trail leads to local bike shops, bust them too. Follow the money… fish rot from the head down.

  • Prinzrob

    Robert from Bike East Bay here. To clarify, we agree that bait bike programs are not entrapment, and we do support and promote their use by police departments as one of many useful tools in combating bike theft. The statement in this article was some in relation to some comments we have received from the public while working with police on bait bike programs, but not representative of our organization’s views.

    In addition to cracking down on the thieves themselves, we would very much like to see UC Berkeley, the City of Berkeley, and the City of Oakland police also crack down on stolen bike markets by enforcing existing laws in both cities which require used bike buyers to report a seller’s contact info and the bike serial number to the police. This would enable the police to run the serials through bike registries to find matches with stolen bike reports, while also making it harder for thieves to sell stolen bikes as the buyers would be particular about the goods they acquire.

    • Prinzrob

      More details on Bike East Bay’s public-facing theft prevention programs can be found at BikeEastBay (dot) org (slash) theft and BikeEastBay (dot) org (slash) BARTBikeTheft. You can also find us at the free Pedalfest event in Oakland’s Jack London Square on Saturday, July 25th, where we will be operating a free bike registration photo booth, and signing people up for free starter cards for the secure BikeLink system of bike lockers and rooms.

  • tenjen

    Thank you, Christine Ho and Daily Cal for ending the story on an uplifting note. Especially liked the deployment of the s-word.

  • Jgritty

    How much do these tracking devices cost? I want one for my bike

  • RaoulO

    What kind of liberal CA nonsense would ever call this entrapment.

    People like this make me embarrassed to call myself liberal.

  • Mark Talmont

    It would be useful to know how these cases wind up being adjudicated. This area is notoriously limp-wristed when it comes to actually doing anything consequential about property crimes. They need to do some scorched-earth asset forfeiture and see if the word gets around. See all the remnants of u-locked bike frames around town? Too bad we can’t have “ISIS for a day” to deal with the scum who steal back wheels.

  • Thom Cate

    How can one be an advocate for bikes, and those who ride and depend on them, and not be an advocate for arresting bike thieves? The definition of “entrapment” as “inducing to crime” is wholly legitimate, but why then does Bike East Bay not take a position on bike theft? Surely this is a no-brainer: BIKE THIEVES DESERVE LEGAL CONSEQUENCES.

    There, I said it.

    What is BEB afraid of? This Quisling (look it up) position is the weakest attempt at supporting biking while trying not to offend. Make a stand, for not stealing bikes. Instead of “reporting concerns we have heard,” why not tell them “This is not entrapment?”

    • Prinzrob

      Hi Thom, please feel free to refer to some of my previous responses above for more info. Bike East Bay is not opposed to bait bike programs, but we see it as a part of a much larger solution to the theft epidemic, which we are working out butts off to address. We have worked to recover bikes for many individuals and have helped police departments catch thieves, and we wouldn’t put all of this time into the problem if we didn’t have a very strong position against bike theft. However, I hope you can agree that if bike thefts can be prevented in the first place without the need for many arrests, via shutting down stolen bike markets, increasing secure bike parking options, and many other initiatives that we are involved in, then wouldn’t that be better? The stats from BART PD’s data (including from their own bait bike program) shows that bike thefts at stations have been reduced over 50% year over year with many fewer arrests than the UCB PD who have reduced thefts by 45%, so this shows that alternate approaches can be just as or more effective.

      As for the “entrapment” issue, I have indeed stated blatantly to both the reporter of this article, to other commenters, and to concerned members of the public that bait bike programs are 100% not entrapment. I’m not sure how much more clear a stance I can take. Being sensitive to the concerns of the public we represent does not mean we will water down or otherwise handicap our bike theft prevention efforts.

  • LHT

    I think this is an incredibly complex issue, and targeting the theives can only be part of the solution. I agree with Robert that we need to have a multi-faceted approach to solving this. I’ve had 3 bikes stolen and it prompted me to volunteer and eventually work as a bike parking supervisor for the SFBC. Without a solution to the parking issue, there will be 10 theives to replace each one we lock up. I’m grateful for BEB’s efforts. There’s sooooo much more to be done.

    • tenjen

      Please explain why bike theft is an incredibly complex issue. I understand it may be complicated to stop/solve, but I don’t understand what’s complicated about thieves (not theives) taking other people’s bikes.

      • Jon

        I think you already answered your question, actually. I don’t think LHT or Robert are saying that the actual theft is complicated, but that the process/considerations when creating an ecosystem where bikes can be safe / not stolen (as much) is complex.

  • TheOne BillyGunn

    Just arrest these blacks and white-trash already. We know who the bike thieves are on campus. It isn’t a stereotype if the statistics back the assumption.

  • Oaklastic

    Robert Prinz, really? Breaking the law is not “entrapment”… go back to school, please?

    • rhetoricus

      Ugh, THANK you. “Entrapment is a practice whereby a law enforcement agent induces a person to commit a criminal offense that the person would have otherwise been unlikely to commit.” Really, a bait bike that looks like every other bike somehow mesmerizes an otherwise law-abiding person into stealing it?

    • Prinzrob

      Hi, I’m Robert from Bike East Bay who was quoted in the article. Please note that I agree with you that bait bikes are not entrapment, I was only reporting some of the concerns we have heard about these programs from community members, in an effort to get ahead of that controversy. In my full conversation with the reporter I made it clear that these programs are 100% legal. However, they have more value as a psychological barrier to bike theft as a crime of convenience, since potential thieves know there is at least a chance the bike they might be caught, even if few to no arrests are ever made.

      I do stand by my statement that it is important to focus on all the opportunities to reduce bike theft by making it harder to steal bikes in the first place, as well as shutting down stolen bike markets, as opposed to just increased arrests. There are lots of opportunities for the City of Berkeley to do something about this issue, including by enforcing their existing law which requires used bike buyers to report the serial number and seller’s contact info to the police for their records.

      • Woolsey

        “…concerns we have heard about these programs from community members” who are these people complaining – the bike thief operations in Berkeley who see their business model being damaged? UC police arrests these folks and it will have a deterrent effect. Just stopping a robbery without any consequence will have no impact whatsoever. BART and the City of Berkeley should also have these bait bike programs and always arrest the perpetrators. Why would you not advocate arrests? Please explain. Is this an official position of Bike East Bay.

        • Prinzrob

          Bike East Bay as an organization does not have a position on bait bike programs, but as the coalition’s Education Director my position is that they are one of many useful tools for combating bike theft, mostly as a visible deterrent as part of a marketing campaign, such as the “Is this a bait bike?” stickers that SFPD hands out.

          For more information on the concerns voiced about these programs feel free to Google “sfist sfpd bait bike”. I have actually defended the value of bait bike programs in response to concerns like these, so please do not misrepresent my position. We also work directly with PDs around the East Bay to encourage increased enforcement on known stolen bike vendors and markets. However, I do feel that bait bike programs can be over-implemented and UCPD’s 31 arrests in just 6 months seems like quite a lot. I am not proposing that police catch thieves with bait bikes and then let them go, as you suggested, but I would like to see them spend more of their time on bait bike program marketing, which would also have a deterrent effect, and less time on implementation. This way fewer bikes are stolen and nobody has to be arrested.

          Other police departments we have been working with have been very successful in reducing bike theft at stations despite very few arrests. BART PD (which also has a limited bait bike program) had half as many bikes reported stolen in May this year compared to May 2014. Part of this has to do with BART investing in more secure bike parking facilities, including BikeLink lockers and rooms, as well as more racks inside the fare gates. BART has also been partnering with Bike East Bay to provide information to patrons about secure locking techniques and free registration services, while also providing vouchers for discounted U-locks and free starter BikeLink cards.

          If UCB also started investing heavily in secure bike parking for students, as well as providing subsidized locks, information on locking techniques, and even bike share pods so that individuals could leave their own bikes at home, they would likely see similar results.

          • lspanker

            Bike East Bay as an organization does not have a position on bait bike programs

            Why not? As a former Cal undergrad who had my commute bike stolen from the breezeway under Hildebrandt Library one evening, I would welcome any efforts by BPD/UCPD/BART PD/ACSO to aggressively target bike thieves…

          • Prinzrob

            Please refer to the rest of my previous comment for information on some of the many bike theft prevention activities that we are involved in, including consulting with PDs on bait bike programs. You can visit our website BikeEastBay (dot) org (slash) theft for details on our free classes, programs, and outreach related to bike theft prevention, as well as BikeEastBay (dot) org (slash) BARTBikeTheft for info on our theft prevention initiative at BART stations.

          • Woolsey

            I do feel that bait bike programs can be over-implemented and UCPD’s 31 arrests
            in just 6 months seems like quite a lot”?!? What are you talking about? Why are you sympathetic to bike thieves? 31 arrests in 6 months is symptomatic of way too many bike thieves, not over-enforcement. Why don’t these people get a job like the rest of us – since when do they have a right to my bike? My opinion of Bike East Bay has plummeted – you folks are part of the problem, you’re in effect blaming bike riders for not having locked up well enough rather than thieves. There are countries – think Holland – and even parts of the US where minimal or no locks are adequate – why can’t we be that way here. Unbelievable.

          • Prinzrob

            Nobody deserves to have their bike stolen, and no matter the circumstances the thief should be held accountable. But providing information about secure locking techniques does not equate to blaming the victim.

            I stand by the work I do, which does involve public outreach to help people protect themselves from theft, but also a lot of coordination with police departments, fighting for better laws and enforcement of existing laws to help crack down on thefts, fighting to get flea market operators to implement controls on bike sales, fighting to get cities to drop their bike registration requirements and endorse free registries instead, communicating with individuals who have experienced a theft and helping them recover their bikes, working with transit agencies to scour bike registries and help get bikes back to their owners, working with agencies across the East Bay to fund and install secure bike parking, and on and on. Our organization is likely spending more hours on bike theft prevention than anyone else in the Bay Area, and most of this work is done on my own volunteer time as Bike East Bay has very little dedicated funding to apply towards these activities.

            Bike theft is a very complicated issue with very complicated solutions. It’s easy to point fingers and say someone is approaching it the wrong way, but difficult and frustrating to get ones hands dirty and try to deal with it. If you are concerned about bike theft then please help us, as a volunteer or even better as a board member to better enable us to give even more attention to these issues and secure funding to approach them holistically.

          • tenjen

            What is complicated about bike theft? I understand your wish for a multifaceted solution, but I don’t see anything “complicated” about stealing.

          • Prinzrob

            Complicated because it involves working with and performing outreach to the police, bicycle owners, bike shops, flea market operators, transit system operators, bike registry operators, city governments and advisory committees, and many more community partners.