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.