New program to curb bike theft

Story by Breann Schossow

Senior Josh Bonnell headed out for a run in July and looked toward where his bicycle was locked up under the Hilltop overhang on upper campus.

He couldn’t see his bike, though, and thought it may have tipped over. Further investigation revealed the worst. Bonnell’s cable bike lock rested on the ground, cut.

Someone stole his bike.

Bonnell’s stolen bike was part of a recent spike of bike thefts at UW-Eau Claire from July to the present, said Sgt. Chris Kirchman of the UW-Eau Claire Police Department. The spike, over four months, yielded more stolen bikes than all of last year.

In an attempt to deter thieves and educate bike users on campus, university police instituted a bait bike program funded by a Wisconsin Office of Justice grant after the spike in thefts caused them to look for new ways to fight the problem.

The program kicked off a few weeks ago, but the official campaign to educate bike users about it began more than a week ago.

Kirchman said they were inspired by the bait bike program used on other university campuses, including UW-Madison.

“We found out that they were pretty successful in reducing the amount of bikes that were stolen,” he said. “Also, they were able to catch some of the thieves.”

Composed of several aspects, the program focuses on enforcement and education. If the bait bikes, which have tracking devices on them, are stolen, officers will be able to track and recover them, Kirchman said.

“We want to create a deterrent,” he said about the program, which aims to reduce the number of stolen bikes on campus.

Initially, Bonnell heard about the program through resident assistant training.

“I thought it was awesome,” he said. “It’s a great thing to do, just because it’ll help catch people that are stealing the bikes.”

Bonnell’s bike was never located. He has replaced his bike, uses a U-lock instead of a cable lock and keeps it in his room.

As part of the educational aspect, the program is being publicized, and university police encourage bike users on campus to put stickers on their bikes that say, ‘This could be a bait bike.’

“What we’re hoping is the more the thieves see that on bikes around campus, the more it gets them to think twice about whether they really want to take the chance to steal a bike,” Kirchman said.

Kirchman said the sticker also educates bike users on campus to realize that thefts do occur at the university.

University police is also using this as an opportunity to teach about the proper ways to lock up bikes, especially as many bikes stolen over the years were not locked up at the time of the theft, Kirchman said. He added that by teaching proper techniques to secure bikes, it will make it harder for bicycle theft to occur.

Kirchman was unable to release more details about the bait bikes, or the number being used. The grant award totaled $3,400, which is the cost of the program. It covers all of the educational materials, tracking devices and minor incidental costs. However, no man hours are included in that.

Kirchman said the hope is to use this program long term.

“I think it brings awareness to the problem,” Kirchman said.