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‘Bait bikes’ deployed at Reed College lead to arrest

Posted by on January 6th, 2015 at 1:58 pm

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Bait bitten then busted.
(Photo: Reed College Community Safety)

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.

Until now.

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.

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Map from the bike’s GPS device.
(Map graphic: Reed College Community Safety)

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!”

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GoFundMe campaign.

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.

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63 Comments
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    SilkySlim January 6, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Standing ovation from somebody who lives <1 miles from Reed and has had parts stolen off their bike. More please!

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    Todd Hudson January 6, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Since the thieves were busted in Clackamas County, it’s less likely they’ll matrix out of jail in 90 minutes like in this county. So there’s that.

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      Middle of the Road guy January 6, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      except you get tried in the county where you committed the crime.

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        Spiffy January 6, 2015 at 3:18 pm

        ye, Clackamas will export them back to Portland…

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        Todd Hudson January 6, 2015 at 3:22 pm

        They’ll be tried in Clackamas for meth possession, which is a felony.

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          middle of the road guy January 7, 2015 at 11:52 am

          and DDAs often drop the misdemeanor charges when there is also a felony involved.

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      Buzz January 6, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      Plus, methamphetamine. Too bad they weren’t in a stolen vehicle as well.

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    Bella Bici January 6, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    OMG!!! FINALLY!!!

    Please, oh please, deploy these bait bikes all over Portland. ASAP

    Thank you!

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    Lester Burnham January 6, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you Reed College!

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    ricochet January 6, 2015 at 2:17 pm

    MORE OF THIS SORT OF THING

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    Miguel January 6, 2015 at 2:33 pm

    Bravo! NE Alberta might be a good call for round 2

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    9watts January 6, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    “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)”

    That seems kind of a circuitous way to proceed. I’m all for bait bike programs of any stripe, but since the expectation is that this bike will be retrieved, why not just find, borrow a (used) version of said $1,001 bike. Once it is purchased (and subsequently stolen), it is hardly going to be ‘worth’ the original sticker price anyway, or am I missing something?

    Then he can spend the money raised on more pertinent things like a GPS unit, or pay himself minimum wage to deploy and track it, or whatever.

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      Middle of the Road guy January 6, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      the value at the time of theft has to be over $1000….not the original purchase price.

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        9watts January 6, 2015 at 3:10 pm

        That sounds like a difficult thing to estimate. And a stupid rule. I’ve never in my life owned a bike that cost that muc, new.

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          Cheif January 6, 2015 at 3:51 pm

          If you’ve never owned a bike that cost that much new, it doesn’t much matter whether the value is of a new or used bike, does it?
          Though of course it makes more sense to value the thing at the original purchase price since if it gets stolen from you you’ll have to go buy a new one, not buy your used one back.

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            haxored January 6, 2015 at 7:56 pm

            It makes more sense as a theft victim, but sadly this is not how insurance claims and police reports work. You are expected to claim the retail value of the loss, which is alway much less used than new. I also think a thief will be more likely to target another nicer bike if the bait bike is considered to be inadequate or suspiciously insecurely locked, as thieves will likely catch on to the honeypot scheme very quickly. Knowing the wealth of many of the influx of many new Portlanders, I presume $1k is a modest number with all the high-end Cannondale riders that ride around any given inner-city neighborhood. Then again, I have no idea where this kid is going to be planting his honeypot.

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          J_R January 6, 2015 at 6:06 pm

          It’s not a “stupid rule,” is state law, specifically the definition of “Theft in the First Degree.” ORS 164.055. With a value between $100 and $1000, it’s the lesser crime of “Theft in the Second Degree.” ORS 164.045.

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            9watts January 6, 2015 at 6:20 pm

            I said stupid rule because my bikes, being less expensive, are in the eyes of this law only a second degree theft, when they are just as much—or perhaps more—important to my getting around than someone’s $3000 bike that may not be their sole transportation. Does the law pertaining to car thefts also make these kinds of distinctions? Treat beater cars as a lower priority than BMWs?

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              J_R January 6, 2015 at 8:08 pm

              It’s all based on value of the property; there’s no distinction on what it is (car, bike, computer, camera, etc.) as long as the value exceeds $1000, it falls under theft in the first degree, which is a felony. So, your $1100 Trek or $90,000 Tesla fall into the same category. It’s all found in ORS Chapter 164.

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                9watts January 6, 2015 at 9:55 pm

                Thanks, J_R, for the clarification.

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          middle of the road guy January 7, 2015 at 11:53 am

          It is difficult to estimate an often depends upon the victim’s assessment of the value itself.

          But the defense attorney can always question those estimates also.

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      Josh Chernoff January 6, 2015 at 8:17 pm

      I know this is a hard point. I thought about talking to some local bike fabricators. Still working the finer details out and this will definitely be a learning experience. I’m also up for providing any web development / design work for any local bike show would like to contribute to the bike and the price of the bike 😉

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    Todd Boulanger January 6, 2015 at 2:47 pm

    The newer smaller GPS units (with tracking service fee) makes this effort much less laborious than PPBs old “stakeout” style of bait biking (a new verb?). Set up the GPS unit and define a notification boundary …once it leaves the block (or hits a speed of 10 mph)…there would an alert sent out.

    Thus I would suggest that the Portland BAC form a subcommittee to study and make a recommendation on implementing an organized bait bike effort.

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    Spiffy January 6, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    I spent hours with teams of officers watching bait bikes, ready to pounce on thieves.

    you’ve uncovered the problem…

    why are the officers sitting around watching the bikes? you’re right, that’s a waste of time…

    use a GPS app, go do other things, and then have it alert you as soon as the bike starts moving…

    THEN you pounce on the thieves…

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      Middle of the Road guy January 6, 2015 at 3:04 pm

      No. You have to see the thief take it otherwise the thief can argue it changed hands and they were unaware it was stolen.

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        MaxD January 6, 2015 at 3:17 pm

        would a concealed video camera solve that?

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          middle of the road guy January 7, 2015 at 11:53 am

          YES!

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        Spiffy January 6, 2015 at 3:19 pm

        X10 camera stuck to a nearby building recording everything…

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        yoyossarian January 6, 2015 at 4:45 pm

        It seems like the police should be less concerned with charging someone with the the theft of the bait bike, and more focused on where the bait bike leads them. As in the instance above it lead them to uncover more serious infractions. I think programs like these would have more value if the result was it lead the police to drug trafficking or chop shops, not simply charging one individual with the theft of one stolen bike (something that is likely to have little impact on bike theft or the individual apprehended).

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        Josh Chernoff January 6, 2015 at 8:19 pm

        Selling stolen property is also a felony.

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        paikiala January 7, 2015 at 9:00 am

        More likely, as demonstrated in this case, other crimes will be uncovered.

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    Scott H January 6, 2015 at 2:57 pm

    So much applause! It would be amazing if they keep this up enough and we start to see a decline in bike theft.

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    Ted Buehler January 6, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    Hmmm. Would private bait bike placement work? Get a fairly nice bike, put a GPS in it, leave it out overnight with a cable lock in risky places until it goes missing, call the cops and send them to the backyard/warehouse/ministorage/outdoor encampment where it’s located? Rinse and repeat?

    This could be a easy way to curb the rash of bike thefts without needing to prod any government entities into putting together a plan…

    Ted Buehler

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      Josh Chernoff January 6, 2015 at 8:18 pm

      My thoughts exactly!

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      Ted Buehler January 6, 2015 at 8:55 pm

      I’d think it would be crowd-sourceable, too.

      Get BP, BTA, or someone else to buy a bike, install GPS, and if someone takes it, bam, one thief who is less likely to swipe a bike next time he needs cash.

      Start a kickstarter, ask everyone to pitch in $20 or $50, and you’d have the equipment up and running in less time than it would take to even suggest government staff consider such a program.

      Downside? I doubt there’s be backlash from the thieves, I doubt the cops would get tired of rescuing the same bike over and over again, because they’d be hauling in plenty of other stolen bikes with each haul. Maybe ab insurance issue? But still, little downside.

      Or maybe PSU, PCC, PNCA, OCOM, and urban campus colleges can replicate the Reed example.

      Ted Buehler

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        Josh Chernoff January 6, 2015 at 11:37 pm

        But you would have to be crazy to jump into something like that 😉

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    spencer January 6, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    well done, now raid their storage unit

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    spencer January 6, 2015 at 6:46 pm

    springwater chop shop south of ross island bridge is back at it tonight :(. Owner of blue electra townie is latest victim

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      Moleskin January 6, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      Yup. Frames and wheels all over the place.

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      SilkySlim January 7, 2015 at 12:07 pm

      I saw that too, it was like a junkyard. Bunch of frames, wheels, components everywhere. Geeeez.

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    Josh Chernoff January 6, 2015 at 7:15 pm

    Can someone please put me in contact with the people at reed. I would like their advice and maybe see what I can do to contribute.

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    K'Tesh January 6, 2015 at 7:34 pm

    how many ounces of gold would they have to hide in the bike to make it work >$1K? Hell, that way even a Huffy might qualify.

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      Psyfalcon January 6, 2015 at 11:20 pm

      Officially, about .85 oz, but you’d have to check the local prices.

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    Ted Buehler January 6, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Googling Gary Grainger gets you the contact info for Gary and the rest of the Community Safety staff here:
    http://www.reed.edu/community_safety/staff/

    Also has his email if you want to send a thank-you note.

    Ted Buehler

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    11111 January 6, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    One ounce of gold is over 1200 dollars

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    Ted Buehler January 6, 2015 at 9:04 pm

    Josh — I see from the Reed FB page that you’ve already gotten the kickstarter going — nice work!

    http://www.gofundme.com/fek2c4

    BTW, with the GPS at $160 and the radio tracking device at $750, can’t it just be a $91 bike to top the $1000 threshold?

    Ted Buehler

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      Josh Chernoff January 7, 2015 at 12:27 am

      The price of the RF tracking is more about the receiver (“the part I used to track”) and less about the transmitter which is much cheaper.

      Also the price of the bike is an odd issue. The defense will do what they can to talk down the price. so some say it needs to be closer to $2000 to assure a conviction. I’m still learning what I can do about that.

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        gutterbunnybikes January 7, 2015 at 6:25 am

        Funny that everyone only values the price of the bike as a whole, most bikes when broken down the value of the components are worth more in parts than the bike is as a whole.

        It’s part of why I started refurbing old bikes in the first place. It’s ridiculous how much old Strumey Archer parts go for on ebay and the bike shops when I can pretty easily find an entire old three speed for a few bucks more.

        When building your bait bike, I’d personally go with vintage parts. Old campy stuff and the like. Their market values are pretty stable and easily verified with a simple ebay “sold items” search.

        After all if your busting up chop shops, they’re most likely selling them off in parts too.

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    Jim Lee January 6, 2015 at 9:49 pm

    One Troy ounce.

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    Matt Pie January 6, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    fine if the cops dont want to deal with them, instead of GPS, fill the frame tubes with explos:ves

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    browse January 6, 2015 at 11:31 pm

    It’s possible that as Officer Pickett says, ” ‘Police arrest the thieves’ is not the answer.” But the current plan of action of the Portland Police Bureau towards bike thefts has left us with the current sad situation. Surely it’s time to try something different.

    I just donated to Josh Chernoff. Let’s hope it bears fruit.

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      Ted Buehler January 7, 2015 at 12:44 am

      ” ” ‘Police arrest the thieves’ is not the answer.””

      I think bait bikes are the answer.

      It won’t take Portland’s street thieves out of the thievery business.

      But it will take them out of the BIKE thievery business.

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    Harald January 7, 2015 at 5:19 am

    Read the headline as “Bat bikes” first and was slightly disappointed after realizing my error. But bait bikes are still pretty good 🙂

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    A.B. January 7, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    In Wa, 60 miles north: There are two major bike chop shops and many lesser. I have seen the vans and the PU trucks with frames and rims, the Meth/Heroin losers riding much nicer equipment including some of mine now adorning their frames. Also, I am certain there are bikes from out of town here when I saw a man riding a recumbent who suddenly became the proud owner of several rattle can bikes, now moved along to somewhere else. I know the man somewhat and there is no way he would pay a cent for an upright, let alone a recumbent. He is a fence.
    Keep up the bait bikes.
    I suggest a new citizen’s proactive network that works with existing bike registries that incorporates RFID into the seats or tires. Internet Uploading Home-made data loggers (Intel Edison) joined to polling equipment can be an enthusiast’s friend where the data loggers ID and date stamp for later retrieval. If you ride by a logger, you get ID’d. I have seen the operable range of RFID and it is impressive; foot races are logging runners for laps but also picked up ‘strange’ ID’s a block away from moving autos. A website supplement would help a registered owner access to their data to determine where their bike went. This technology could be used to deter other forms of theft.
    For this to work, the more data loggers there are, the better the resolution for immediate pinpointing. This would allow a stolen bike to be located, but the secret to the sauce cannot be disclosed yet. Meth and heroin are both associated with the rise in bike theft.

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    Redhippie January 7, 2015 at 11:32 pm

    If the problem is that the theives are back on the street the next day maybe a different approach is called for. How about caning like in Singapore. Cheap to implement and very memorable.

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    Robert Burchett January 8, 2015 at 11:50 am

    Some thoughts: a bike purchased used for $1000+, and locked out to a rack, should still be worth $1000. Packing a frame with gold seems a little whacky, but I’d rather do that than put vintage Campy out there (if I had any). Biggest risk to the theives is what happened, the police get to search their stuff. That map trace was great–no ‘bought it for $20 story’ will stand up.

    Lots of cheap bikes might actually be better. Then, no theft would be ‘safe,’ and the word would travel fast.

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    PoPo January 9, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Below is the text of my entire previous comment, from which the quote was taken for this article. Please note the final paragraph that was not included in the quote. The intent of the comment was to engage the entire community in this issue, and not pin the ENTIRE responsibility on the Police, as can sometimes happen when it comes to crime issues.

    That said, I also agree with the above commenters about tracking stolen bikes via GPS being a more worthwhile use of police time. This could lead to more valuable arrests and maybe even discovery of entire networks. Even as recently as five years ago, GPS units were not small enough with batteries that lasted enough and signals that were strong enough for this application. Or at least we were not aware of such a GPS unit, so we were stuck with using our own eyes.

    PREVIOUS COMMENT:
    The police have easy access to a pretty nice database we might be familiar with: http://bikeportland.org/2012/09/10/stolen-bike-listings-creator-gets-commendation-from-portland-police-bureau-77032

    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.

    The solution here is prevention. And it is a community prevention project, which includes the police, as well as lots of other stakeholders. Map the hot spots… Educate… Use a burly U-lock. Build more secure parking areas… Lock the garage… More valet parking… Consciously take a look at bike racks when you pass and call police if you see something/someone suspicious…Get the used bike stores on the lookout…what else?….

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      wkw January 12, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      I agree that arrests are not a panacea, BUT enforcement MUST be a part of the solution, especially when it is very very common knowledge where these bicycle chop operations are, and they are figuratively right under the police’ noses.

      This is Broken Windows theory, plain and simple. If the police ignore it, it will continue.

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    SW January 19, 2015 at 6:04 pm

    What Shall Be Done with the Thieves of Bicycles?
    An old Oregonian article tells us what they used to do…

    http://www.wweek.com/portland/blog-32719-what_shall_be_done_with_the_thieves_of_bicycles.html

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