BUPD Bugs a Bicycle in an Effort to Deter Thieves

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Bait-bike coming to a bike rack near you. Maybe

As bicycle thefts are likely to spike with the temperature in the coming weeks, the Boston University Police Department is channeling Dirty Harry with a dare to thieves: do you feel lucky?

For the first time, the BUPD has baited one bicycle with hidden GPS tracking technology and locked it at a particular BU bike rack, known only to department personnel. The bike’s bug is backed by video surveillance of racks, monitored by officers. Signs will be placed at racks alerting the public—including would-be thieves—that the bait-bike could be there.

“We are not secretly doing this,” BUPD Lieutenant Dan Healy says. “The signs are intended to alert people to the fact that we are monitoring the bike racks with cameras and that we are serious about preventing this type of theft.”

The timing of the GPS-cum-video strategy, conceived by BUPD police officer Jack Struble, is not coincidence: two-wheeler thefts typically rise with the mercury in March and the arrival of spring, says Healy. (September and October remain “by far the busiest months” for thefts.) Since March of last year, 91 bicycles have been reported stolen to the BUPD.

map with labels showing locations of most frequent bike thefts

Map of 91 reported bike thefts between March 15, 2018, and March 15, 2019. Graphic courtesy of BUPD

“Bikes have always been and continue to be a popular target for thieves,” Healy says, “particularly those that are not locked up securely. This problem is not unique to BU; it happens everywhere.”

The department has also produced a video with BU Parking and Transportation Services highlighting bike safety tips, including:

  • Use a solid steel U-lock to secure your bike, as it’s harder to cut than a cable lock.
  • Always lock your bike to a bike rack, securing both wheels and the frame. Locking a bicycle to fences, trees, or other options does not afford adequate protection.
  • If possible, use a secure BU bike room. There are rooms at Warren Towers, the Kilachand Center for Life Sciences & Engineering, and 504 Park Drive.
  • Don’t use quick-release tires and bicycle seats. They are a cinch to steal.
  • Register your bicycle with Parking and Transportation Services here.
  • If you see someone loitering suspiciously near a bike rack, call the BUPD at 617-353-2121.
  • Stolen bikes should be reported immediately to the police.

“Boston is a great city for cyclists,” says Healy, predicting burgeoning biking in the future after Commonwealth Avenue’s recent upgrading, which included improved bike lanes and cyclist-specific signals added to traffic lights.

But more bicycles mean more temptations to steal. “We hope that this operation will call some attention to the problem,” he says, “create new opportunities to educate cyclists, and deter would-be thieves from operating at BU.”

While this is the BUPD’s first bike-bugging, the department has used tracking technology before, installing GPS in dummy Christmas packages last December after a rash of thefts from apartment foyers and common spaces.

Find a list of other University bike safety resources here.