by Paul Bowers
Over the weekend, police used a bait bicycle with a GPS tracking device to arrest a man on a charge of bicycle theft.
On Sunday morning at about 8:10 a.m., according to an incident report, an officer placed a bicycle owned by the City of Charleston in front of the Recovery Room Tavern at 685 King St. A Charleston Police Department spokesman says the bicycle was placed in a bike rack but was not locked.
Later that morning at 10:15 a.m., the officer checked the location of the bicycle online and saw that it had been moved across the road to an apartment complex at 670 King St. The officer returned to the area and found the bicycle on a porch in the apartment complex. When the officer knocked on the apartment door and asked the man inside where the bicycle had come from, the man reportedly replied, "I just picked it up off the ground and brought it home."
The officer arrested the man on a charge of petit larceny. The bicycle was recovered, but a city registration sticker had been removed from it.
Attorney David Aylor says that taking a bicycle from a rack is theft, whether it is locked or not. He likens such cases to burglaries of items kept on screen porches. "If the person does not reasonably believe the object is his or hers and then they remove it, that would be a theft," Aylor says.
However, Aylor says that it could be difficult to prosecute certain cases unless the suspect admitted to taking the bike from the rack. "Let's say you took the bike, and you see police coming and you get scared and put it on my porch," Aylor says. "I come home from church and there's a bike and a cop at my house."
The use of GPS-enabled bait bikes has expanded in recent years across the U.S., particularly on college campuses. According to a May 22 report in USA Today, a bait bike program at Winthrop University reduced bike thefts by 75 percent, while other campuses have run across some challenges. At the University of Wisconsin–Madison, one of the first colleges to start a bait bike program, officials reported that thieves had learned how to locate and remove the bikes' GPS units.