With a campus as large as Virginia Tech, and a student population that out numbers the police force nearly 300 to one, the Virginia Tech Police Department simply can’t have eyes everywhere.
To combat this predicament, VT police have started using a new method to deter bike theft— ordinary looking bikes equipped with GPS tracking abilities.
These seemingly ordinary ‘bait bikes’ are mixed in with student bikes all over campus, just waiting for an unsuspecting thief to make the mistake of taking it.
Lieutenant George Jackson manages criminal investigations for the VTPD and runs the bait bike program for the department. The program is not necessarily aimed solely at catching bike thieves, but about preventing future crimes from being committed, he said.
“Nobody has ever stolen a bait bike before, but we’ve had a reduction in the amount of theft this year because of the warnings we’ve advertised,” Lieutenant Jackson said.
Bike thefts were at a high in 2011, with 48 bikes stolen and only 11 recovered. This year, so far, 17 bikes have been stolen, with three bikes recovered.
“Bikes are stolen relatively frequently here. If you look around campus at the number of bikes here percentage-wise, it’s not a lot. But, if you’re one of the 48 who had their bikes stolen, it matters,” Lieutenant Jackson said.
The bait bikes are equipped with GPS trackers that emit a signal when a bicycle is moved from its original location. These trackers lead police to the exact location of the bike, with the expectation that the thief will have other stolen bikes for them to find as well.
“More than likely, a bike is stolen by a few people who are perpetrating the theft of all the bikes,” Jackson said. “We hope to recover several bikes from one person. But also deter the lazy student going from one side of campus to the other and wants a quick ride.”
Nate Lasker, a freshman communication major, recently had his bike stolen on campus.
“My bike was locked outside overnight and I went out to grab it in the morning to ride it to class, but it was gone, with no lock to be found," Lasker said.
After searching, the bike was found. However, if the police recover a stolen bike that is not registered through Parking Services, it cannot be returned to its owner and is instead put in storage. In addition, the VTPD cannot charge a thief with stealing if they cannot identify a victim.
According to Jackson, a thief is also more likely to ignore a bike without a registration sticker, and being in possession of a stolen bike is sufficienct evidence that he/she has stolen it, unless proven otherwise. Though bait bikes have arguably helped to deter theft, the simplest way to prevent bike theft is to make sure it’s registered properly through Parking Services and to invest in a quality bike lock. It’s also recommended to memorize your bikes serial number in case it is stolen or impounded.