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San Francisco Police Use GPS To Catch Bike Thieves

Bigad Shaban
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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) — Sean Ramirez repairs bikes for a living–at least those that are left to fix.

He said a lot of his customers are afraid to buy a new bike. “People don’t just want to invest money into something that’s just going to disappear,” he said.

In San Francisco, bikes have vanished at the rate of three every hour. Ramirez said he’s not surprised, especially with bike locks becoming easy to break.

Many stolen bikes end up in a police warehouse, and since 90 percent of bikes are unregistered, the vast majority can’t be traced back to their owners, like Morgan St. Clair.

“My bike was stolen when I first came here,” she said, “so it’s very personal for me.”

She became an activist, lobbying San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors to allow police to lure potential thieves with bicycles that contain a hidden GPS. They’re called “bait bikes.”

San Francisco police officer Matt Friedman said tracking starts automatically where it is uploaded to a website to then track the course of the bike.

Police had also used undercover surveillance video to watch over the bait bikes, and it doesn’t take long before cameras capture a theft — and the thief.

Friedman said thieves are in “utter shock” when a police officer rolls up to confront them, and in many cases, arrest them. The mug shots then get posted on social media.

“It’s my belief that people should know who’s stealing their bikes,” Friedman said.

St. Clair created a sticker to confuse thieves into thinking they may be stealing a bait bike. There are now five thousand of them on bikes around the city.

“It tells them they could possibly have a GPS chip in it, so if you take the bike, you will be followed by a police officer,” St. Clair said.

Friedman said it’s too early to determine just how much the program has helped lower bike theft in the city

The bait bikes may be more of a deterrent, but Ramirez hopes they’re a not so subtle reminder to thieves.

“I like the idea of making people paranoid about it,” he said.

It’s possible the bike they’re about to steal may not be a free ride after all.

 

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