Follow that bike! 

Whistler RCMP look to Victoria’s bait bike program for inspiration

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By Vivian Moreau

City of Victoria’s new bait bike program has Whistler RCMP considering a similar method for catching two-wheeled thieves.

In response to an escalating bicycle theft problem in Victoria, the city’s police are taking a page from the successful bait car program and planting expensive bikes equipped with electronic tracking devices in high-risk areas to nab would-be thieves. Although only 60 bike thefts are reported a year in the province’s capital, a police department spokesperson said 30 bikes are recovered each month and he estimates 80-100 bikes a month are stolen — a $500,000 annual problem.

“We’ve got one group of people stealing the high end bikes for chopping and swapping,” said Les Sylven, Victoria’s communications manager. “Then there’s another group that grab anything because they need a quick turnaround to feed their addiction.”

Two bikes a day get stolen in Victoria, leading to a $500,000 annual problem. Photo by Vivian Moreau

But the most surprising thief demographic, Sylven says, are those who use bikes as getaway vehicles in bank robberies and thefts.

“We even call them getaway bikes,” Sylven said. “They blend in, they can move fast and avoid stop-and-go downtown traffic.”

To clamp down on the getaway potential bike thefts offer savvy thieves, and with $10,000 in funding from Victoria’s downtown business association and $8,000 internally, police have placed bait bikes equipped with GPS and video and cellular surveillance support in high-traffic downtown public spaces and apartment building bike lock-up areas. Once a bike is stolen the bike can be tracked from the station and officers dispatched.

Part of their Protect Your Bike campaign that teaches bike owners to record bike serial numbers, model information and encourages theft reporting, Sylven emphasizes the seriousness of Victoria’s bait bike program.

“We’re not doing this to get on Spike T.V.’s craziest cop chase here.” he said. “Twenty-five per cent of all bike robberies, thefts, break and enters, and quite a few bank robberies, has someone spinning away on a bike.”

Whistler-Pemberton RCMP think the bike bait program has merit.

“We would definitely be interested in something like Victoria’s program,” said Sgt. Marc Lavergne, operations supervisor.

Last summer local police arrested two males in connection with half a dozen high-end bike thefts. Unlike Victoria, where stolen bikes have an average value of $500, bikes stolen in Whistler have an average value of between $3,000 and $7,000, Lavergne said.

Local police had a similar program in the past that quelled ski and snowboard thefts in Whistler, with officers staked out near planted ski gear. Lavergne said bicycles equipped with GPS would cut back on unproductive stakeout time.

“But my concern is once the bike would be taken we’d have to move on it quickly,” Lavergne said. “They can get on Highway 99 and after that it becomes problematic, based on your GPS and resources available. But it’s something we would definitely like to take a look at, that’s for sure.”

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