Oscar Otieno awoke early one morning for class, only to find his typical means of transportation had seemingly evapavorated into thin air.
This was the morning Oscar discovered that the second bike he had purchased while at VSU had been stolen. This time, the crime was committed outside of his apartment in Centennial Hall. The first time it happened while he was on campus. The same feeling of helplessness went through his body, Déjà vu if you will, from when his first bike was stolen from him a year before.
Bike thefts have been a major issue on campus. Recently Winthrop University in South Carolina implemented a decoy “Bait Bike” program to control and limit bicycle thieves from stealing from their students.
VSU has had numerous bike thefts over the last year and students are worried what could be next.
“I think other types of theft on campus will escalate,” Ayesha Roberson, sophomore theatre major, said. “I do think that because of the bike thefts, thieves will become more brazen and steal other things or rob people. And that’s a scary thought.”
While generally victims are not hurt during bike thefts, one of the biggest problems is the lack of funds many students possess to purchase a new bike. Some students simply decide to walk or take the bus.
In 2009, Winthrop University Police reported 20 bike thefts and officers knew that these crimes could be prevented.
The university approached Chief Frank Zebedis with ideas to install the “Bait Bike” program and by October 2010, the plan was enacted.
“It’s a very good program,” he said. “It’s kind of like fishing. We put the bikes out for the criminals and we wait until they take the bait.”
Mini GPS devices are placed into the three police-owned bicycles and send off alarms and text messages to campus dispatchers and officers once a bike is in motion.
Bike thieves are normally local juveniles according to the Web site, BaitBike, but the thieves in and around Winthrop’s campus that are arrested were adult males that lived in the community.
Zebedis says the most common answers a thief gives for stealing a police bait bike is “My friend let me ride it,” or “My girlfriend gave me that bike!”
Since the program has begun, seven arrests have been made to date and bike thefts on Winthrop’s campus have diminished from 20 all the way down to eight.
The eight thefts have all been attempts to steal a police bait bike.
Thefts as a whole have decreased from 117 in 2009 at Winthrop, to only 54 in 2010.
The stark decline is somewhat attributed to the bait bike program because the mystery surrounding which bike is a police bike is tough for criminals. Also criminals do not know if police are “baiting” other objects such as wallets or backpacks.
“Until they are in court, we never tell a thief that he is being arrested in a sting operation,” Zebedis said. “We always say that a concerned citizen watched them take it or a passerby saw them take it and called. That way, criminals cannot tip off their friends on which bike to steal and not to steal.”
Bike thieves in South Carolina are charged under the Bike Theft Statutes in the state and could receive anything from a fine up to 30 days in jail, or a combination of both.
No repeat offenders have been caught up in the “Bait Bike” program for trying to steal a bicycle again.
VSUPD also used the Bicycle Anti-Theft and Bug-A-Bike programs to try to limit thefts.
The B.A.T program let students or faculty sign up for a decal they place on the crossbar of the bike. Each decal has a unique I.D number that is put into the VSUPD computer system for tracking. The visible decal allows officers on campus to stop bicycles from 11 p.m to 6 a.m (the time most bikes are stolen according to the VSUPD).
. “VSU should bring this program back,” Mandela Littleton, junior Spanish major, said.
Zebedis urges that this program won’t be stopped, even if bike thefts at Winthrop decline to zero.
“Prevention comes with education,” he said. “We educate the community and students on campus on the program and media exposure to what we’re doing.”