UTPD 'bait bike' program success declines, James Otte among few who still fall for it

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UTPD has seen a 95 percent increase in bike thefts in the past two months, but no bait bikes taken in the past month. 

 
Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

James Otte, 56, is being held in the Travis County Jail after he was charged this weekend with theft of a University of Texas Police Department “bait bike,” a bike with a GPS tracker inside. UT police say a dwindling number of criminals are still falling for the bait bike sting.

UT police chief Robert Dahlstrom said since the bait bike program was initiated in February of 2011, it has been successful, but that success has recently declined.

“Over the last month, we have had more thefts and no bait bikes taken,” Dahlstrom said.

In October, UTPD received 39 bicycle theft reports, almost double the 20 bicycle thefts reported in September. UTPD has not received that many bicycle thefts reports in a single month in the past 10 years. The second-most bicycle thefts reported in a single month since 2000 came in January 2011, the month before the bait bike program began, when 36 bicycles were reported stolen.

Since the bait bike program began, there have been less than 20 bicycle thefts reported to UTPD each month, until the spike beginning in September. 

UTPD detective Roberto Gonzalez said roughly 50 people have been arrested by UTPD through the bait bike program since it started.

He said criminals are most likely wising up to the bait bike program.

“They are usually repeat offenders,” Gonzalez said. “That is what we found through our bait bike program. Many times you have career criminals that steal bikes or anything accessible.”

Gonzalez said while some instances of organized crime have shown up in the past, where stolen bicycles were taken to other cities in large quantities to be sold, that is not normally the case.

Most thieves steal the bicycles to sell somewhere in the area for quick cash, often to buy drugs, Gonzalez said.
 
“They are definitely being sold at pawn shops, flea markets and on Craigslist,” Gonzalez said.

He said the fact that the bicycles usually stay in the area doesn’t necessarily make it easier to track them down.

“The problem is they are still difficult to find,” Gonzalez said.

He said bicycles are a prime target for thieves, especially on a college campus, as they are often accessible and left unattended.

“The bikes are often left for an extended period of time, sometimes maybe even semesters at a time,” Gonzalez said. “They are open, accessible. That is why they are such an appealing target.”

He said the best way students can prevent bicycle theft is to properly secure their bicycles with two strong locks: one through the bike’s frame and another through its back wheel.

Gonzalez said students can also have their information engraved free of charge at UTPD, and they can register their bicycles with the University online.

By registering a bicycle with the University, students leave the serial number of their bicycle on record. Gonzalez said this can assist police and even students in identifying a stolen bicycle, as many bicycles tend to look the same.

Printed on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 as: UTPD seeks enhanced bike safety