Putting out “bait bikes” to lure bike thieves is a very popular idea. For some, the idea of setting a trap and then waiting for an unsuspecting thief to fall into it, gets the vengeful heart pumping. While the idea comes up almost every time we report about enforcement of bike theft, to our knowledge there has never been an organized bait bike program in Portland.
Community Safety Officers from Reed College put a bait bike in play over winter break and last Friday night someone bit. “Knowing that thieves target campus during breaks, CSOs [Community Safety Officers] decided to take a proactive approach,” reads the Reed College Community Safety Facebook page. They equipped several bikes kept in their lost and found storage with a GPS unit. After one of them was stolen Friday night they tracked it and alerted Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputies where it was.
The deputies pulled over a van in Oak Grove (six miles south of Reed) and found the bike inside, along with several other bikes, stolen property and a quantity of methamphetamine. Two men where arrested.
Reed College’s Director of Community Safety Gary Granger said they hope to continue to use bait bikes. “We have over 30 bike thefts documented on campus so far this academic year, so we really want to do something to reduce the problem. We have pushed U-locks instead of cable locks, expanded indoor bike areas, and not had much success in reducing the overall problem. We plan to continue the program indefinitely and expect that we could have more than one bike in circulation at a time”
The moral of the story, say Reed CSOs, “Don’t steal from Reedies!”
On a more grassroots level, Portlander Josh Chernoff is so tired of bike theft he wants to start his own bait bike program. Chernoff launched a crowdfunding campaign last night to raise $2,000 to get the effort off the ground. He plans to use the money to purchase a bike (which must be worth over $1,000 to reach the criminal threshold for felony grand larceny), a GPS device, and a tracking device.
In addition to the equipment, Chernoff says he’ll volunteer for one night a week, “for as long as it takes to start and see meaningful change in our area.”
Bait bikes are not new in Oregon. Back in August of last year, police officers in Ashland made headlines after making several arrests with their bait bike.
While such programs can work, not everyone agrees bait bikes are the best way to approach the problem.
Robert Pickett, a former Portland Police officer who served on the bike patrol unit, thinks resources needed to run a bait bike program are not worth the investment. In a BikePortland comment last year, he wrote;
“Like thefts from cars, this is a problem that the police will never solve through arrests or bait bikes. I spent hours with teams of officers watching bait bikes, ready to pounce on thieves. The ratio of arrests/officer hours was pathetic. And as mentioned above, property thieves are rarely “off the street” for very long because the DA and the jail are spending their limited resources and space on more serious crimes. Really. Really. “Police arrest the thieves” is not the answer. It isn’t.”
Bait bike programs — administered by the Portland Police Bureau or other entities — are certainly worth considering. Once word spreads, they could deter criminals from opportunistic thefts. There most important value, says bike theft expert Bryan Hance of BikeIndex.org, could be to help police piece together larger cases by tracing bikes to chop houses and storage units.
As frustration about bike theft grows in our region, we expect all types of efforts to crop up. Stay tuned.