Defenders Investigation: Baiting Bike Thieves


by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR and producer SANDRA BARRY

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

Posted on May 13, 2013 at 10:29 PM

Updated Monday, May 13 at 10:41 PM

AUSTIN -- The University of Texas at Austin is employing a high-tech tool to catch bike thieves.

Bicycle theft continues to be an issue in Austin. According to city and University of Texas theft records reviewed by Defenders, thieves have stolen at least $2 million worth of bikes in Austin in the past three in half years. More than 2,000 bikes have been stolen in the past year –that’s one bike stolen every four hours.

"I typically lose about one a month,” said Mark Mitchell, owner of Barton Springs Bike Rental across from Zilker Park.

Mitchell claims that he has had more than one hundred bikes stolen from his business in the past few years.

University of Texas Police Officer Ruth Jasso says her department takes bicycle theft very seriously.  Jusso’s department is now using GPS technology hidden in bikes across campus to catch the crooks.

Campus police lock bikes, with a hidden GPS, in high-theft areas and wait for someone to take the bait. A computer program then notifies police dispatch of the theft, and the chase is on catch the thief.

The GPS tool helps police track and locate bike crooks as they try to get away. Jasso says that the bait bikes are working.

"We do have repeat offenders, but we're not seeing them as often as we used to," Jasso said.

Most bike thefts strike off-campus in the Austin jurisdiction. A few years ago, Mitchell told Austin PD, that he would pay for bait bikes, and the GPS technology if the city created its own program.

“I think it would cut down the rings in Austin and take them to other cities," Mitchell said.

Commander Jason Dusterhoft with the Austin Police Department says the city did have its own bait bike program a few years ago, but no one stole a [bait] bike. Dusterhoft admits that the technology at the time wasn’t perfect.

"And that's not to say we can't try this again. I'd like to look at that and the feasibility of it, and in the end, it might be better to make joint partnerships,” Dusterhoft said.

Dusterhoft says he now plans to reach out to UT Police and meet with Mitchell about his offer.

Click here for a map of bicycle thefts from 2009-April 2013.

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