The other element in enforcement is the deterrence factor. “I think the device’s most effective tool is theoretically deterrence,” says Stern. Swanson agrees. “As the program becomes more successful, throughout the criminal community this will be communicated,” he explains. “If they are consistently stopped on campus and they have never been caught before, they will become aware of how they are caught. At some point, they will say, I was caught at the university stealing a bike. They have a tracking device. That will cause a ripple effect.”
‘Our real culprit is cable locks’
On UCSB’s AS website, students can watch a video detailing the bait bike program. This video was part of the university’s educational component. Stern explains in his experience, bikes are not always treated with respect, and simply talking about the bait bike leads people consider some of larger issues involved in bike theft, like registration practices and locking methods. U of M’s program aims to teach bicycle riders the importance of choosing a good lock. “Our real culprit is cable locks,” states Swanson. “Generally thieves leave [bikes] with U-style locks alone. One or two bikes a year are stolen with a U-locks. [Bikes] with cable locks are stolen all the time.”
UW-Madison worked with both local and national media as part of its education efforts. “We get out into the community and talk to students, staff and faculty on campus,” says Chapin. “We’ve worked with the city police department to get into the off-campus housing areas. We’ve employed signs and stickers. We’ve done a lot of media work to get the news out that this program exists and is preventative and educational as opposed to enforcement. We see a lot of the bait bike stickers on student’s bikes. We’ve had some significant success.” Students from other universities have contacted UW-Madison’s police department asking them to contact their university to implement a similar program.
Many in the bicycle community don’t believe the police care about bike theft. The educational aspects of the bait bike programs have helped address this concern as well. “They don’t think bike theft is taken seriously,” states Swanson. “If you ride for transportation and you get to work and your bike’s gone, it’s a long trip home. Those people who use it for transportation are excited about it. They see you’re doing something about it.”
One of the reasons this tracking device based program has garnered community support is student expectation. “[The bait bike] ties in generationally with the students that are here,” says Swanson. “This generation of students is accustomed to technology solving problems for you. There is an IT solution. This is what technology can do for us. This is great.” UW-Madison’s students have taken this idea a step further by successfully applying for a grant to implement a bait laptop program as well. As students continue to expect technology to provide solutions, police agencies will need to keep up with the existing IT solutions.
All of these agencies plan on continuing their programs and even expanding. “While the bait bike program is focused on bike theft because of the name, we really want to focus on people who are preying on our community,” explains Chain. “If we can prevent someone from preying on our community, [we] can make our campus a safer place.”
Freelance writer Michelle Perin holds a master’s in criminal justice and criminology from Indiana State University and previously worked for the Phoenix (Ariz.) PD for nearly eight years.