Bait bikes program leads to arrest

Story by Katie Hoffman

Early Sunday morning, university police were notified by a GPS tracking system that one of their bait bikes was stolen from campus.

University police Lt. Jay Dobson said the GPS units hidden on the bait bikes send alerts to officers via text message when they are moved.

“That information was then relayed to the patrol officer in a squad car who got a visual of the suspect riding the bike,” Dobson said. “Upon stopping the subject, the bike was identified as one of our bait bikes, and he was arrested for misdemeanor theft.”

The arrest of the 25-year-old male was the first through the use of the bait bikes program, implemented last October in Eau Claire after 13 bikes valued at $5,000 were reported stolen from the Eau Claire campus from July 1 through Sept. 30.

According to data from University Police, an additional nine bikes were reported stolen on campus from Oct. 1 through Jan. 31.

Dobson wouldn’t comment on the number of bait bikes currently on campus, but with construction and lack of parking on campus, he said he’s seeing a lot more students using bikes to get around.

“When it comes to thefts that we investigate on campus, bikes rank right up there with the most commonly stolen item on campus,” Dobson said. “We were seeing these numbers of bikes being stolen, so we’re just trying to think of ways to try to curb that.”

Senior Graeme Lewis said he rides his bike to campus when the weather is nice, but hasn’t lately due to a rusted bike lock. He said he knows of students whose bikes were stolen in the past, and that’s not a risk he’s willing to take.

“I think it’s good that they caught somebody with this program,” Lewis said. “It proves that it’s working. These things take time, and now that the biking season is beginning, there are more likely thieves to be caught.”

The bait bike program is funded with a $3,400 grant through the Wisconsin Office of Justice. The grant money bought the GPS units, along with the service subscription to send the tracking information via text message and informational pamphlets and bright yellow “This Could Be a Bait Bike” stickers.

Although just one arrest has come from the program, Dobson said he thinks the program is still effective — especially due to the deterrence factor and public awareness of bike thefts.

“Even though we’ve only had one arrest, part of the program is detection and apprehension of bike thieves,” he said. “Hopefully somebody will not want to risk getting caught because they don’t know what’s a bait bike and what’s not.”