Bait-bike program expands to south Sacramento

Sacramento police this week rolled out the bait-bike program in south Sacramento in a bid to reduce bike and other property thefts in the area.

The 2-year-old program launched first in midtown and has expanded to other parts of the city, including Natomas and North Sacramento.

Officials say bait bikes serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals. The bicycles, equipped with GPS tracking, are deployed at random times to random locations. The 160 deployments last year resulted in 60 arrests and citations, according to Sgt. Bryce Heinlein, Sacramento police spokesman.

“We’ve been watching with great interest,” Jenna Abbott, executive director of the Mack Road Partnership, said of the program. “The people picked up were being linked to larger crimes.”

The Mack Road Partnership and Florin Road Partnership paid about $1,500 each for three bait bikes for the south area, Abbott said.

About 50 percent are riding out of necessity. It’s pretty devastating to them when bikes get stolen.

Joe Joerger, Florin Bicycle Center owner

Last year, there were 142 bicycle thefts in the south area within the city limits, according to police. Officials did not have data on the total number of bicycle thefts in Sacramento. Arrest data for previous years was not tracked by the Police Department.

Officials have roughly a dozen bait bikes to deploy at any given time, most of which were purchased by business groups hoping to reduce crime. The bicycles are usually taken by thieves within 48 hours, Heinlein said. The bikes are typically worth at least $950, so suspects can be charged with felony grand theft. But bikes depreciate, so some suspects are charged with a misdemeanor and given a citation on the spot, Heinlein said.

Jim Brown, executive director of the Sacramento Area Bicycle Advocates, welcomed the program’s expansion but noted that good parking options also deters bike thefts.

“Those neighborhoods are somewhat more vulnerable to theft,” Brown said of the south area. “There isn’t the parking infrastructure to keep bikes safe. If you chain up to the pole at the far end of the biking lot, there’s a higher chance it will be stolen.”

He added, “If people believe they’re going to lose their bike, they won’t take their bike.”

Joe Joerger, owner of the Florin Bicycle Center, just outside the city limits, described bike theft in the region as “rampant.” For many low-income residents, bikes are the only way to get around, he said.

“About 50 percent are riding out of necessity,” Joerger said. “It’s pretty devastating to them when bikes get stolen.”

In a bid to help owners recover their bikes, the Sacramento Police Department has introduced an online registry at called Ride On!, http://rideon.sacpd.org.

The deployment of bait bikes is dependent on daily officer staffing, Heinlein said. Catching someone in the act of stealing a bike can be difficult, he said.

“Sometimes they just dump it before we arrive,” Heinlein said.

Richard Chang: 916-321-1018, @RichardYChang