Police to plant GPS 'Bait Bikes' on campus

University police expect the program, which is already being used at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to be up and running by fall semester.
May 05, 2009

Starting fall semester, bike thieves may think twice before cutting locks on campus.
University of Minnesota police plan to implement a “Bait Bike” program by fall semester 2009, which will plant GPS-tracked bicycles in high-theft areas around campus, University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said Tuesday.
Since the beginning of fall semester, 100 bicycles have been reported stolen on-campus, totaling more than $47,000 in estimated losses, according to University police statistics.
Bicycle theft is up from the same period a year earlier, in which 68 bicycles were stolen.
Police will use unclaimed and abandoned bikes as bait, and attach the hidden GPS system to the frame. If stolen, the bike will send a signal to police, who may track its location electronically and make an arrest.
The hardware cost for each GPS unit is around $1,000, along with a monthly monitoring fee, Miner said.
“In the scheme of things, it’s a fairly reasonable small price to pay,” he said.
University of Wisconsin-Madison police implemented Bait Bikes in 2008, and has since seen a significant drop in bike thefts.
The University of Wisconsin experienced 50 bike thefts this year — Bait Bikes included — which is down 30 percent from the 2007-08 academic year, University of Wisconsin police Sgt. Jason Whitney said.
University police have been speaking with Wisconsin police about the program, Miner said.
Whitney said their force uses “several” Bait Bikes, but would not reveal the exact number.
Bait Bike cases are easy to prosecute because there is little thieves can dispute, Whitney said.
“We worked with our district attorney’s office prior to implementing the program to make sure they were on board with it,” he said.
At the beginning of each year, University of Wisconsin police distribute stickers reading “This could be a Bait Bike” to students in hopes that they will put them on their bikes, Whitney said.
The hope is to get thieves to think that any bike on campus may be a Bait Bike.
Student response has been “encouraging,” Whitney said.
Miner said, besides stickers, the University might post signs around campus warning thieves of the bikes.
“The best thing for the program to be useful is for the thieves to know [the Bait Bikes] exist,” Miner said.
University of Minnesota student security monitors watch bike racks for theft, but are not able to provide any constant monitoring of bikes, University Security Monitor Program Manager Ben Schnabe l said.
“We just [catch thieves] by hand monitoring,” Schnabel said, “where somebody just watches it from a distance where people cannot directly see us.”
Increased monitoring of bike traffic on the Washington Avenue Bridge was a factor in this year’s increased number of stolen bicycles, Schnabel said.
Bike thefts are a seasonal problem, Miner said, simply because there are more bikes to steal.
“With the warmer weather, there are more people on bikes, and more bikes on racks,” he said.
Miner also said bike theft rates fluctuate year to year due to groups of thieves in the area.
“A lot of times, we see a group of people doing a series of thefts,” Miner said. “Occasionally, they come and go as do our theft rates.”
University police recommend that people use “U” locks to secure their bicycles, because cable locks are easier to cut.
Police also rely on citizen calls to locate thieves.
“Every year we make a handful of arrests thanks to citizens calling in,” Miner said, “when they see somebody hovering around a bike rack.”
Theodore Wahl , a 23-year-old graduate student studying astronomy, had his cable lock cut and bike stolen from the racks in front of the Tate Laboratory of Physics Monday afternoon, a police report stated.
Wahl biked to class from his home every day — about a mile away. He said he felt his bike was safe when locked in such a public area.
“Police told me not to expect too much,” Wahl said. “They advised me to get a cheaper bike and buy a better lock.”
Wahl had his serial number, which Miner said increases the chances of a bike being found.
“If a person has the serial number, a bicycle is much more likely to be found than if they do not,” he said.

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