GPS and Twitter: SF's new anti-bike theft tools

The San Francisco Police Department is getting creative in its quest to reduce bike theft. Steal a bike? It might have been a decoy. Got caught? Your pretty face might find its way to Twitter.

See, nationwide efforts to increase bicycle use have had an expectable drawback: more bikes are being stolen. As a matter of fact, in just 6 years, bike thefts have increased by 70%.  This outpaces the drastic increase in bike usage, 60% from 2000 to 2012 according to the Census Bureau.

Of course, we don’t want to give up on the movement towards encouraging bike use. Emissions are lowered, fitness is increased, and the costs to maintain roads go down. Bikes are a primary mode of transport around the world and Americans are beginning to learn that the more expensive option for transport (cars) is not always the best one.

An easy way to deter the use of bikes, though, is for all of these new adopters to get their new rides stolen. While cars are sometimes stolen, bikes are quite a bit easier to steal and maim. You can just pick it up and take it! Cheaper bike locks can be cut through with readily accessible tools and a frustrated thief could end up damaging the bike frame or wheels.

The SFPD’s Anti-Bike Theft Unit is taking some interesting tactics to deal with this problem as they invest in bike lanes and other infrastructure improvements to make the city more bike friendly.

One tactic is the use of “bait bikes” put throughout the city. Equipped with GPS, these unassuming bikes are placed not so much to entice thieves as much as be traceable when thieves do strike.

Source: @SFPDBikeTheft

Source: @SFPDBikeTheft

See, many bait bikes have this sticker. Why? Well, the SFPD is offering these stickers to all bike owners, too. This way, you make potential thieves think twice about whether your bike is one worth stealing. And, at that point, they might rethink the entire concept.

A similar program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison resulted in a 40% reduction in bike thefts on campus, where it was becoming a problem.

The extra step of Twitter shaming, though, is being pioneered in San Francisco. Sometimes, it is in the name of fact-finding. Here’s a representative sample, in this case retweeted on behalf of a Twitter follower:

Source: @SFPDBikeTheft

Source: @3030Vision

Other times, it’s purely for the shaming. This one is for a catch they made in September.

Source: @SFPDBikeTheft

Source: @SFPDBikeTheft

Source: @SFPDBikeTheft

Source: @SFPDBikeTheft

Even better is the conversation they had with a follower regarding this man’s punishment:



Whatever it takes. It’s good to see such positive relations between the police and their community in solving a problem, especially when they use the technology at their disposal to facilitate these things.

Tags: Bicycle Cycling Law Enforcement Madison San Francisco Twitter University Of Wisconsin

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