In an effort to crack down on the increasing number of bike thefts in the city, the Victoria Police Department will be rolling out a bait bike program within the next month.
Acting police chief Del Manak told city councillors last week the department is putting the final touches on the program following the success of a pilot program that wasn’t publicized.
“It works with bait cars and we see no issue with it working with bait bikes. It’s one tool in the tool box,” said Manak, noting there are a lot of prolific offenders who’s job is to go out and look for bikes to seize, then take them to a chop shop.
“Someone is making money so a lot of the time we are actively looking in our community where these bikes are going and where we’re able to advance our efforts.”
After noticing a growing trend in bike thefts during the last few years, Victoria police implemented a bike registry in July 2015 to help reunite found or seized bikes with their rightful owners.
Cyclists fill out a form with their contact information, bike serial number and description, making it easier for officers to establish that it’s stolen when checking a person riding it without permission. Last year, 733 bikes were stolen. Of those, 255 were returned to their owners.
At the beginning of July, around 358 bikes had been reported stolen, prompting police to launch a public education campaign.
Typically the bikes are swiped from a porch or back yard, but some thieves cut the locks of bikes parked downtown. The hot spots for thefts include the area around Value Village, Yates and Broad streets.
Sometimes the bikes are dismantled and modified in an effort to throw off police. Many of them were recovered from the former tent city on the lawns of the Victoria courthouse, and have also been found at the city’s homeless shelters.
In the bait bike programs rolled out in other communities across Canada, including Vancouver, police outfit some bikes with location trackers, then place them in public areas as “bait” for would-be thieves. In other cases, it’s just a matter of putting a bike out and having an officer watch it.
In Victoria, police have identified a group of about 10 people in the city as prolific bike thieves. The courts have also helped police get a handle on the thefts, releasing prolific offenders on conditions to not have a bike or bike parts period.
“Our response to bike thefts, we see it as a critical. A lot of times for many people that’s the only mode of transportation that they have,” said Manak, adding prolific thieves were also targeting electric scooters.
“Once we identified that they were the ones stealing them (electric scooters), we were able to identify where they were stealing them from and also where they were being dumped…We were able to significantly reduce the amount of thefts of scooters.”