Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento police say bait bikes’ crime-fighting role goes beyond deterring bicycle thefts

John Kirkman
John Kirkman Sacramento Police Department

A bait bike program intended to deter bicycle thefts in Sacramento is also reeling in thieves suspected of other property crimes in the city, police say.

Since late 2013, when police began placing bicycles equipped with GPS tracking devices at strategic locations, thefts of those bikes has resulted in 90 to 100 arrests, said Sgt. Rachel Ellis, who oversees the Sacramento Police Department’s bicycle unit and the bait bike program.

Some of those arrested have been people found with the bait bike suspect and who have been arrested for other offenses, Ellis said. The bikes are parked and locked not only in areas where large numbers of bicycle thefts have occurred but also in areas that have experienced vehicle thefts and break-ins and residential burglaries.

“It’s a way to locate people committing other offenses,” Ellis said.

Officers often have a good idea who is committing crimes in certain areas, she said, and a person who steals a bait bike can provide police with a solid case.

“We can’t get better proof than by having them steal something of ours,” Ellis said.

Stealing a bike valued at more than $950 is a felony. The value, type and condition of the approximately 20 bait bikes varies, Ellis said, adding that thieves are as likely to steal an inexpensive bike as an expensive one. The Downtown Sacramento Partnership and Midtown Business Association have donated bicycles to the bait bike program.

“It’s pretty surprising,” she said. “Even some that don’t look that appealing are getting stolen.”

In some cases, she said, bait bike thieves have been arrested as they were cutting the lock off the bike. Most are taken into custody within 10 minutes of the theft, Ellis said.

It’s a way to locate people committing other offenses.

Sgt. Rachel Ellis, Sacramento Police Department

Bait bike thefts, she said, typically are a crime of opportunity by people with a history of offenses such as shoplifting, car and home burglary, and vehicle theft.

“A lot of them have narcotics-related charges in their past,” Ellis said, and they are stealing the bikes to sell or trade, not for transportation.

Bicycle thefts usually increase during the summer, she said, noting that 11 bait bike arrests had occurred in the past three weeks.

Among those recently arrested on suspicion of stealing a bait bike was 36-year-old Brian Turner. An officer patrolling in the 2000 block of S Street was alerted to a bait-bike activation and found Turner near the bike. He was arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property. Sacramento Superior Court online records show that Turner has a history of criminal offenses dating back to 1999. Although most are misdemeanors, offenses include possession of burglary tools, battery against a spouse or cohabitant and a felony charge of assault with a deadly weapon.

Ian Simmons, 32, was found in possession of a bait bike near 22nd Avenue and Mendocino Boulevard as he attempted to leave the area in a vehicle, according to a police report. He was arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen property, grand theft, drug possession and violation of probation. According to Sacramento Superior Court online records, Simmons has been the subject of several cases dating back to 2004 that include vehicle theft, metal theft and possession of a controlled substance.

John Kirkman, 35, is accused of being a serial bait bike thief. His most recent arrest occurred July 25 in the area of 15th and P streets. Police said Kirkman has been caught stealing three bait bikes.

Ellis said she could not provide figures showing a decrease in bicycle thefts since the bait bike program began, adding that evidence of its positive effect is more anecdotal. That’s partly because, along with the bait bike program, police have been encouraging people to report bike thefts.

The Police Department introduced an online registry, called Ride On!, which allows bicycle owners to register the serial number of the bike at Police, along with the Midtown Business Association and the Sacramento Downtown Partnership, have worked to encourage people to register their bicycles and to file online theft reports with police when they are stolen. To date, Ellis said, about 1,500 bicycle owners have registered their bikes. Her goal is to see that number double or triple in coming months.

Emily Baime Michaels, executive director of the Midtown Business Association, said members have indicated that the bait bike program, along with informing bicycle owners about the importance of using proper bicycle locks, has been effective.

1,500Approximate number of Sacramento bicycle owners who have registered their bicycles with the Ride On! registry

With more people biking and walking in the midtown area, Michaels said, it is important that they can be assured their bikes will be safe if they park them while they shop or dine.

Dion Dwyer, director of community services for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said the educational process has been key. Bicycle owners typically have been reluctant to file reports when their bikes were stolen. If they register their bikes, police who come across a bike they suspect is stolen can check the serial number in the database and contact the registered owner. Registering bikes and reporting thefts can aid in bicycle recoveries and help reduce thefts, he said.

Dwyer said feedback from businesses indicates that bait bikes have helped curb bicycle thefts in Old Sacramento, where many employees bike to work.

It may also have played role in reducing vehicle break-ins at area parking garages, where vehicle burglaries had been a problem. Where there are bait bikes, Dwyer said, there may also be “bait cars.”

“We’re showing individuals that we are taking low-level crime seriously because it is such a quality-of-life issue,” Dwyer said.

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