"If this program causes them to hesitate or even opt not to steal the bike, the program is doing everything it is designed to do."
-Sgt. Zach Byers
The UNL Police Department is catching more bike thieves with tracking software used in their Bait Bile program.
In the past three years, University of Nebraska- Lincoln Police have taken 267 reports of stolen bicycles. Of those actually reported, only 49 have been recovered and returned to the owner.
According to UNLPD Assistant Chief, Charlotte Evans, the number of thefts annually has been too high. As a result, UNL Police decided to combat the problem by trying a program to catch thieves in the act. They developed the Bait Bike program where they hope to catch criminals stealing the Police Department's own bikes.
UNLPD has several bikes which are configured with GPS devices. Whenever one of the bikes moves, it triggers an alarm within the police dispatch office. Dispatchers alert officers in the field about the location and description of the bicycles. While the bike is moving, a map displays the current location and direction.
Chief Evans said if dispatchers are able to, they will use cameras to help officers with clothing descriptions as they close in on the thief.
Sergeant Zach Byers said they have several bikes of various makes, models and colors but wont release how many they actually have.. Bikes are parked all over both campuses, sometimes locked, sometimes unlocked.
Byers said, "You cant tell these bikes from the general public's bikes."
Police believe there are two types of thefts involved. Criminals will steal bikes and sell them for profit or there are thefts of convenience.
Thefts of convenience are common. According to Byers, people too tired to walk across campus steal bikes long enough to get to their destination then dump them. For both types of thefts, the people involved are prosecuted the same way.
Since the Bait Bike program began at UNL, the stolen Bait Bikes have been recovered every single time. According to Byers, with one exception, they have caught the thief in every case, often while still on the bike.
Sgt. Byers said it is common for people not to have the necessary information to get stolen property back to the rightful owner. When taking a stolen property report, officers need serial numbers to identify the item. This is the best way to confirm who owns the property when property is found, if it has been documented in the police report. Often times, people who loose property have no idea how to identify their own bike, except for the color and possibly the model.
The University of Nebraska offers literature to new students and parents with information about how to record serial numbers of valuable items. UNLPD has a form on their website to record this information and keep it in a safe location at home.
University students can document items with the Police Department with an online registration form. This important information is saved by the department. If police find an item they suspect may be stolen, they can check the database and see if a student registered that item with their office.
The 2013-2014 school year is the first full year for the Bait Bike program to be implemented. The effect of the program in discouraging thefts has not been determined until all the stats are compiled. Overall, officers seem to feel the program has been a success.
Byers believes word of mouth about the program may make someone think twice before jumping on a bike that does not belong to them. He added, "If this program causes them to hesitate or even opt not to steal the bike, the program is doing everything it is designed to do."