When thieves in Irvine snatched a locked bike and left on a Sunday in late November with their valuable transport, the police followed them.
As soon as the bike was moved, a GPS device hidden on the bike sent a warning to Irvine officers, who followed the signal into the Barranca Parkway and Paseo Westpark areas.
There officials found the bike in the trunk of a Ford Fusion and arrested a couple, two 31-year-old residents, one from Fullerton and the other from Buena Park, who were booked on suspicion of aggravated crime.
The bike, lock and GPS device were part of a strategy that has been dubbed “bait bikes” by police agencies across the country. These became increasingly popular five years ago and offer a simple, high-tech way to curb bicycle theft.
In Irvine, which has more than 500 km of bike paths, the number of cyclists continues to grow – as does the potential for bike theft.
About five years ago, Irvine police bought bait bikes and placed them in town.
Did the program work?
“Bike theft is an ebb and flow business,” said Sgt. Karie Davies, an Irvine police force spokeswoman. “We know that if we use the bait bikes and make an arrest, those crimes will be reduced for a period of time.”
Last year, according to police statistics in Irvine, 306 motorcycles were reported as stolen, which is the average year since 2015.
So far this year the police have registered more than 700 bicycle thefts.
Davies believes the explosion is partly due to residents buying more bikes as many turn to nature to help tackle COVID-19 restrictions.
in Irvine, CA on Monday, December 7, 2020. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register / SCNG)
UC Irvine also uses its own bait wheels around the campus. Many students and faculty members rely on bicycles to commute to university, making them an easy target for thieves, said UCI Lt. Mike Hallinan. “They take them and ride them away.”
Bike thefts on campus have also increased, from 173 in 2019 to more than 210 this year.
Several law enforcement officers characterize bicycle thieves as a common type of person arrested on multiple occasions for property crimes. “Professional criminals,” Davies calls them.
Police are also aware that the ongoing thefts are likely a symptom of bigger problems, such as drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, and a growing number of people being homeless.
“The people who steal are stealing it because they may not have any money, whether they are buying drugs, alcohol or shelter,” said Sgt. Phil McMullin, a spokesman for Orange Police, of the bait bikes in their town and on the campus Chapman University uses.
Law enforcement agencies like Orange’s often plant bicycles worth more than $ 950 in order for officers to bring charges of aggravated theft, which can lead to incarceration as opposed to misconduct theft.
“As for the poor, we target criminals,” McMullin said when asked about such concerns. “We target people who break locks and steal property from members of our community.
And just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they have to break the law and steal, ”said the sergeant. “There are many contact groups that provide food and shelter.”
McMullin said if officials plant the department’s two bicycles, they’ll be stolen in a matter of days – sometimes hours.