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Brookline deploys GPS-linked ‘bait’ to catch bike thieves

Police in Brookline are racking up arrests of bicycle thieves using a “bait bike” equipped with a GPS tracker and a system that notifies police when the two-wheeler is moved.

Police park the bike in spots where bicycle thefts are being reported, and the GPS tracker is activated by a motion sensor when a thief takes the bait, according to a Brookline department spokesman.

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“If you looked at the bike, it’s a regular bike. You’d never know,” said Lieutenant Derek Hayes.

Hayes, who used to head the Police Department’s bicycle unit, said the bait bike was first used last year, and is being used more intensely this summer.

Police said the bike has led to the arrest of eight would-be thieves, including two young men who were tracked down on Aug. 4 after they allegedly cut the bike free from a pole on Beacon Street.

The town has between 60 to 80 bicycle thefts reported each year, Hayes said, and many more probably go unreported.

Hayes said he was trying to find a way to combat the bike thefts when he read about a university in the Midwest that was using GPS trackers to catch bicycle thieves, and he decided to give the idea a try in Brookline.

‘It’s been stolen four times in the past two months.’

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Without describing the bait in too much detail, Hayes said the department uses a bike with a value of about $800, and it typically is secured with a lock that a thief must cut. When the bike is moved, the motion sensor goes off and the bike’s tracking device sends e-mails and text messages to alert police officers that a crime is likely taking place.

Officers can then log onto a website to find the bike and potentially whoever is trying to abscond with it, Hayes said.

“It’s been stolen four times in the past two months,” he said.

Hayes said he does not know of any other police departments in the area using a bait bike, but he has started receiving inquiries from other departments about how it works.

Brookline officers have also started handing out stickers, saying “This Could Be A Bait Bike,” that cyclists can place on their rides as a deterrent to thieves. Hayes said U-locks tend to be the most effective locks for preventing theft, and police also suggest using a combination of U-locks and cable locks to maximize protection.

Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com.
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