KVUE investigation sparks new crime-fighting initiative

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by ANDY PIERROTTI / KVUE News and photojournalist DEREK RASOR

Bio | Email | Follow: @AndyP_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on May 30, 2013 at 10:24 PM

Updated Friday, May 31 at 7:41 AM

AUSTIN -- This week Austin police launched a new crime-fighting initiative to combat bike theft. It's the direct result of a recent KVUE Defenders investigation.

Mike Baker doesn't take any more chances with his bike after someone stole his former ride a few months ago.

“In five minutes, it was gone," explained Baker, after leaving his bike outside of an office.

Baker makes his living on his bike as a food carrier with Jimmy John’s downtown. "It's a big deal when I lose my bike. I'm sure it's a big deal for anyone else, especially when that's the only way to get around," said Baker.

This week, Austin's police department launched a new program to reduce theft by baiting thieves with bikes that have hidden GPS technology inside.

It's similar to bait bike program used by University of Texas Police, which KVUE profiled in a recent Defenders investigation.

Like UT Police, Austin police lock the bikes in high theft areas and wait. When someone takes the bait, a computer sends out an alert and police jump into action.

Most bike thieves strike in Austin's jurisdiction. According to city records reviewed by the Defenders, thieves stole at least $2 million worth of bikes in Austin in the past three and a half years.
 
Mark Mitchell, owner of Barton Springs Bike Rental, offered to pay for the city’s bait bikes several years ago. He’s had more than 100 bikes stolen since opening his doors. At the time, he said his offer fell on deaf ears.

After seeing KVUE's story, Austin police took take Mitchell up on his offer.

"I'm so glad you guys did this story. Right after you talked to me, APD came in and talked to me," said Mitchell.

Commander Jason Dusterhoft with the police department says the bait bikes is a positive step.

"Oh, this is a great thing. I think anytime you can work with the community, we can work with businesses, that's just going to increase our power to go out and catch the bad guys," said Dusterhoft.

The commander says the program will focus in downtown, in particular between 5th and 8th streets.

"Some might say, why are they telling us where this hotspot is? We would rather crime doesn't happen. So, even though we are telling people, just like we tell them not to drive drunk, people still do it," Dusterhoft said.

Mitchell thinks the bait bikes can break up crime rings. “I hope we're gonna see a drastic reduction. I hope they keep the program running so we can keep that number down,” said Mitchell.

Stealing one of city’s bait bikes is a felony, because the bikes are valued at more than $1,500. Felony theft convictions run up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

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