UMN bike thefts down almost 33 percent

The department equips GPS systems in bikes to catch thieves and prevent future crimes.

A bike with its wheels stolen sits locked outside of Coffman Memorial Union.

Easton Green

A bike with its wheels stolen sits locked outside of Coffman Memorial Union.

Hannah Ovcharchyn

The success of University of Minnesota Police Department “bait bikes” has led to arrests of repeat criminals and follows a trend of decreased bike thefts.   

Since the implementation of bait devices in 2011, nearly 4 out of 5 bait bike thefts end in arrest, according to UMPD data. UMPD records show the number of bike thefts have decreased by almost a third since then.

In the state of Minnesota, triggering a device might not be enough for a misdemeanor charge. But apprehended thieves typically are arrested for additional crimes, like possessing drugs or trespassing.  

On June 4, a man with previous convictions for burglary and car theft was arrested at Coffman for stealing a bait bike. Every bait bike theft this year has ended in an arrest as of June 24. 

In 2011, UMPD started the initiative with only four devices. As the bait program has proven successful, that number has grown to 10, University spokesperson Evan Lapiska said.

Bike thefts are one of the most common crimes on campus in warmer months, due to a high volume of students who choose bikes are their mean of transport, said UMPD Lieutenant Chuck Miner.   

UMPD’s bait bike program aims to deter repeat thieves by equipping certain bikes with GPS tracking.

“[This technology] allows us to outfit devices in a way that looks like a normal bicycle,” UMPD Lieutenant Jim Nystrom said.

Bikes with GPS tracking may be left in campus bike racks for months at a time, waiting for movement. Once a bike is moved, officers are immediately notified and know exactly where to go. 

UMPD buys each GPS device through a third party vendor, for about $400, plus a yearly operating fee.

After finding success with bait bikes, the UMPD decided to use GPS systems in other items to apprehend criminals, Nystrom said.

UMPD also uses GPS trackers in cell phones, backpacks and laptops in open areas on campus. The department has its own special task force that configures bait devices for any situation, he said.

“The sky’s the limit when it comes to bait devices,” Nystrom said. “You can put it in a can of pop if you’re creative enough.”