Sacramento police use bait bikes to catch thieves

09/07/2013 12:00 AM

09/06/2013 10:54 PM

Bicycle thieves beware: The bike you steal in midtown Sacramento might be a bait bike, one the police can track.

"If you're going to steal, be ready for someone to chase you," said Seann Rooney, executive director of the Handle District, a business association that paid for two bait bikes. "We want customers, residents and employees to know that someone is watching."

Two months ago, the district, which represents 30 businesses in a single city block – 18th to 19th streets and L Street to the Capitol Mall – decided to do something about the rash of bicycle thefts in midtown.

Sacramento police statistics show that 250 bikes were reported stolen in the downtown Sacramento area (including midtown) last year. Through August this year, thieves made off with 179 bikes.

"Bikes are important to midtown – they're important to our businesses and our employees," said Rooney.

Eighteen months ago, the Handle District had 12 bike racks, but it now has more than 50. "We're adding more and more bike racks because they're heavily used," said Rooney.

"A lot of people are going green, and the economy has something to do with it," said Michele Gigante, spokeswoman for the Sacramento Police Department, of the increased use of bicycles in midtown.

More bicyclists have translated into more bicycle thefts. Midtown residents have gotten so fed up with the number of bicycle thefts that they have set up a Facebook page to report missing bikes:

The two bikes that the Handle District purchased have been equipped by Sacramento police with GPS tracking devices.

The bicycles are locked in place at various locations around midtown, and police officers are alerted when they are moved.

"When it's disturbed, it sends a signal, which a tech in our vehicles can track within feet of wherever it actually is," said Sacramento Police Lt. Marc Coopwood, who works with the Handle District's bait bike program.

"We've not made a lot of arrests – less than 10 in the past two months – but 100 percent of the time, we recover the bait bike," he said.

So far, Sacramento police have deployed the bait bikes at least once a week, though Rooney said he would like to see them used every day.

"We would have tons of successes, but we have limited resources," he said.

The use of bait bikes is not new for Sacramento police. They have been deployed in the city in the past five years, according to Coopwood.

But this is the first time that the bait bikes have been concentrated in a particular area and provided by a business group.

"It's a perfect opportunity for the police and the business community to come together and, hopefully, to make a difference," said Gigante.

In the meantime, the business district and police are compiling and analyzing details about the recent bike thefts in the area.

"We need to get the data on the type of bikes, which locks are better to use, how bike racks are designed, where they are installed, hot spots for bike thefts," said Rooney.

Compiling good statistics is difficult when people fail to report bicycle thefts.

"The problem is there is a lot of under-reporting," said Coopwood.

"People don't think it's worth reporting. We have all these online reporting (forms available). People need to report so we can look for trends, and educate the community on different types of prevention."

People who have had their bikes stolen can report it online to the Sacramento police at:

Coopwood said the Police Department is also working with Councilman Steve Hansen's office to establish a free online bicycle registry in the fall.

Hansen proposed the idea in February.

"It's more a comprehensive theft prevention program," Hansen said. "The registry is a key part of it, but there is an education program on locking your bicycle and reporting bike thefts."

Once the registry is set up – it's expected to have a soft launch in November – Hansen said he would like retailers who sell used bicycles to check the registry before buying them and to see if they've been stolen.

"As the registry takes hold and the merchants start using them, it would reduce the incentives for people to steal bikes," he said.

Call The Bee's Tillie Fong, (916) 321-1006.

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