Sixteen bike thieves have been caught red-handed as a result of the University of Wisconsin Police Department’s “Bait Bike” program.
Using GPS technology, UWPD officers leave locked and unlocked bikes around campus and wait for them to be stolen. When one of the bikes moves, UWPD is notified and an officer is dispatched to issue the thief a citation. The fine for stealing a bike in Madison is $406.50.
According to UWPD Sgt. Jason Whitney, as many as 20 bikes are being rotated around campus to attract and subsequently apprehend criminals.
The hope is that the program will prove to be a deterrent to bike theft and will allow people to ride their bikes around Madison with peace of mind, Whitney said.
“What we want to see is the theft of bicycle numbers to decrease greatly,” Whitney said. “We’re hoping bicycle theft takes a downturn because [the university] is such a bike-friendly campus.”
To further deterrence, the UWPD is issuing stickers to remind potential thieves of the program. They have the department’s logo and the phrase “This Could Be a Bait Bike” next to Bucky Badger sporting a police uniform.
Stickers are being issued at the UWPD and Budget Bicycle Center, the company lending the bikes to police.
“Bike theft isn’t good for our customers and it isn’t a good thing and so we wanted to help out the police,” said Roger Charly, owner of Budget Bicycle Center. “We’ve helped them get police bikes before, so we have a good relationship with them.”
The idea began with UWPD officer John Deering in May, following a spike in unsolved bike thefts.
“A large number of bikes are stolen each year on campus, and very few people are ever caught for stealing bicycles,” Whitney said. “Once a bike is stolen, it’s really hard to track where it has gone. Very few are ever recovered.”
Between January 2007 and May 2008, UWPD received 100 reports of stolen bicycles. During the 2007-08 school year, only one citation for bike theft was issued.
Whitney said it is likely that more bike thefts happened, but they frequently go unreported.