Video: Do you feel lucky, punk? How San Francisco police catches bike thieves

SFPD to bike thieves: "You better believe we’re gonna be coming for you.”

by John Stevenson   May 30, 2014  

Matt Freedman of SFPD asks "Do ya feel lucky, punk?"

Meet Matt Freedman of the San Francisco Police Department. He’s at the forefront of the city’s efforts to combat bike thieves, as he explains in this video from the New York Times.

SFPD, like many forces, is using bikes planted on the street and observed covertly to help catch thieves. But they’ve taken the idea one step further.

“If we want people to get out and ride their bikes, they have to get out without fear of them getting stolen,” says Freedman. So as well as ‘bait bikes’ equipped with GPS trackers and under surveillance, he’s issuing thousands of stickers to San Francisco’s cyclists.

‘Is this a bait bike?’ the stickers say.

Freedman says: “The idea is to let thieves know that any bike at any time in the city of San Francisco could be one of our bait bikes, so if you steal a bike you better believe we’re gonna be coming for you.”

SFPD has created a website at safebikes.org with lots of good advice hanging on to your bike.

Over the years we’ve compiled what we think is the definitive set of anti bike theft tips, with input from the road.cc community, so here it is again to cut out and keep.

The road.cc community Bike Locking Bible

  • Lock your bike to a secure, immovable object. Trees and certain pieces of street furniture don’t make particularly good locking locations; trees limbs can be sawed through, and your bike can often be lifted over bollards and signposts.
  • Your wheels are the most vulnerable part of your bike. Make sure that your lock goes through both wheels and the frame, or use two locks: one for each wheel. Alternatively you can invest in a locking wheel skewer for your front wheel.
  • It doesn’t take long to steal a bike. Make sure that you lock your bike up properly whether you are leaving it for 30 seconds or half an hour.
  • Bike lights and other items and accessories that are not secured to your bike are easy pickings for thieves. Take them with you whenever you leave your bike.
  • No matter how safe you feel in your home, your bike is still at risk, especially if it’s in your garage or your shed. Lock it up at home like you would if you were on the street.
  • Not all bike locks are cheap, but you really do get what you pay for. If you treasure your bike, buying the best locks that you can afford would be a wise investment.
  • If you come back to your bike and it's got a mysterious puncture or damage, walk it home. It's probably been marked in the hope that you'll leave it there overnight.
  • Consider using a registration service, such as Bike Register, to physically mark your bike with an identifying feature and link it to your identity on the police database. Certain councils and police constabularies offer free solutions, and there are alternatives to Bike Register.
  • If it does go missing you must report it. The police will only take bike crime more seriously if they have reason to do so.
  • If you're down to one lock, or are particularly worried about the security of your wheel, taking your front wheel with you eliminates half of the risk of theft immediately.
  • Use secure bike parking wherever possible. Even for a price, your bike will be far better protected from theft inside a designated secure location rather than on the street, no matter how well you think you’ve locked it up.
  • Make sure that you lock your bike up in as public of a place as possible. If you leave it in a secluded location, it will give any would-be thief time to work on your lock undisturbed.
  • Make the lock mechanism itself hard to access. For example if you're locking your bike to railings, point the lock mechanism away from the street so it's harder for a thief to attack.
  • Don't leave space in your shackle - any extra space gives evil bike stealing tools the room they need to do their dirty work. Don't give them that opportunity.
  • If you’ve taken out insurance on your bike don’t buy any old lock. Make sure that the locks that you have purchased are featured on Sold Secure’s approved products list as many insurance companies insist on their use.
  • But most importantly, wherever you’re going, please do not forget your lock!

13 user comments

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Now there's a guy who enjoys his job! Loved seeing him sitting at his desk laughing at the surveillance video of the bike thief being taken down. And a desk lamp with a 'Death to bike thieves' sticker! Cool

posted by pwake [290 posts]
30th May 2014 - 16:28

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I don't know how many forces in the UK have used bait bikes, the Met have. The number of bike thefts per year is frankly insane and yet receives relatively little Police attention.

Apart from the financial harm of any crime, it's one of the leading causes of people giving up cycling which is a real shame.

posted by bikebot [486 posts]
30th May 2014 - 16:34

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This list of advice is all about blaming the victim: "it's your fault for not locking up your bike". Theft is theft no mater how much inconvenience the bike thief has to go through to get your bike. No matter how well you lock up your bike, a determined experienced bike thief will have it if they want it.

The missing advice that would really reduce bike crime is to stop buying secondhand bikes on the internet. If you are buying a bike on Gumtree or eBay you might have well stole it yourself. If we remove the demand for stolen bikes then the supply of stolen bikes should dry up.

posted by DrRocks [2 posts]
30th May 2014 - 16:49

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DrRocks wrote:
If you are buying a bike on Gumtree or eBay you might have well stole it yourself. If we remove the demand for stolen bikes then the supply of stolen bikes should dry up.

So, serious question.

Can anyone see any problem with requiring that second hand bike listings include the frame number?

I've mentioned on this site before that I'd like to see all new bikes contain an RFID/NFC tag in the frame. As with mobile theft, there are ways to use technology to reduce the demand. And I completely agree with DrRocks, reducing the demand is the key to reducing the problem.

posted by bikebot [486 posts]
30th May 2014 - 17:43

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DrRocks: Banning the 2nd-hand bike market seems wrong too. Is there a more practical solution?

posted by Paul J [595 posts]
30th May 2014 - 18:13

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Or get a folder and take it indoors Smile

posted by JWaterworth [1 posts]
30th May 2014 - 19:23

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They say if it happens in the states it will happen in the UK 5 years later.
Or maybe the police in the UK are doing this already ? Anybody know if the police in the UK are putting out bait bikes in our towns and cities ?
If not I would like to apply for the job of bait bike - bike thief catcher Applause

Rupert's picture

posted by Rupert [83 posts]
30th May 2014 - 21:26

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JWaterworth wrote:
Or get a folder and take it indoors Smile

I tried that last Saturday, but I got complaints from the people behind me in the cinema.

Pffft, some people eh!

posted by bikebot [486 posts]
30th May 2014 - 22:17

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[[[[[ Yup, Bikebot's suggestion that "all used bike ads must display the frame-number" looks like a good idea. Strange it hasn't become a legal requirement.
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [276 posts]
31st May 2014 - 2:54

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pwake wrote:
Now there's a guy who enjoys his job! Loved seeing him sitting at his desk laughing at the surveillance video of the bike thief being taken down. And a desk lamp with a 'Death to bike thieves' sticker! Cool

And the only other time I've heard 'clipped' was in the Sopranos!

posted by fustuarium [11 posts]
31st May 2014 - 8:28

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RFID and registering (and making use of) frame numbers mandatory are all good ideas, but remember this is a country where you can still get a numberplate made of someone else's car reg in ten minutes. Very handy if you stole the car you're driving in the first place. So if the UK can't fix that gaping hole, they aren't likely to pay attention to mere poor people's bikes.

The usual good tips, but there's little reason to take the front wheel with you - if it comes off it will probably fit in the lock detached. Allen key skewers and Pitlocks will only delay things a little bit. You really have to "uglify" any nice stuff (like a Brooks saddle) as well as use theft deterrents (ball bearings in the socket heads) in cities. I buy those el-cheapo Chinese Knog ripoff lights at £5/pair and take any good light with me.

Ride your own ride

posted by CanAmSteve [124 posts]
31st May 2014 - 10:16

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There is a potential very serious uninteded consequence to this. Bank vans were made so secure that there was no point in thiefs attacking them. So they started going more for the thing that was still vulnerable, the crew. How do you know a bike isn't a 'bait bike'? because someone's pedalling it. The police are not the only ones that can take down someone on a bike!

posted by tendecimalplaces [4 posts]
1st June 2014 - 13:41

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tendecimalplaces wrote:
There is a potential very serious uninteded consequence to this. Bank vans were made so secure that there was no point in thiefs attacking them. So they started going more for the thing that was still vulnerable, the crew. How do you know a bike isn't a 'bait bike'? because someone's pedalling it. The police are not the only ones that can take down someone on a bike!

Not sure you're comparing apples with apples there? Commit violent crime and escape with thousands in cash vs commit violent crime and escape with a bike you can probably shift for a few hundred quid; does somewhat colour the decision methinks!

posted by pwake [290 posts]
1st June 2014 - 15:43

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