WASHINGTON — It only takes 30 seconds. The thief walks the length of the bike racks and turns around, walking at a slower pace, scouting for brand names and weak locks. A few more steps, a quick glance around, and the thief bends over next to the mark putting a backpack on the ground.
To the casual observer it looks as if the thief is getting ready to unlock a bike, but, instead of keys or a combination, bolt cutters are pulled from the backpack.
In seconds the chain is cut, the backpack is hoisted over the shoulder and the thief rides away with a new bike.
“It has been a small problem for Metro with the stolen bikes, and we’re trying to address this right now,” says Metro Transit Police Officer David Yashinskie.
One of the ways police are trying to stop bike thieves is with undercover sting operations at stations with reputations of theft. Yashinskie and his crew will lock up a bait bike, and then deploy around the station waiting for a thief to try and steal it.
“So far we’re two weeks in, we’ve had two arrests and a lot of activity around the bike racks,” says Yashinskie. “What we’re doing is we’re watching the bike, waiting for someone to basically try to come and steal the bike. They would have to cut our lock to take possession of the bike, and once they take possession of the bike we will arrest them.”
The bike is outfitted with a GPS device should the thief escape police. But, Yashinskie says there are some other surprises in store for a thief that will slow them down if they attempt to steal the bait bike.
Bike theft from Metro stations is up compared with last year. In the first quarter of 2015, Metro Transit Police reported 24 bikes stolen from stations. The two most active stations are King Street and Braddock Road in Alexandria.
Each time a commuter locks up a bike at a Metro rail station, there is a trust placed in the system that the bike will be there at the end of the day.
And these stings show that police take that trust seriously.
Still, there are some simple precautions cyclists can take when locking up at a Metro station:
–Use a U-lock. They are much tougher than chain and cable locks, and often serve as a deterrent for a prospective bike thief. Metro says that bikes with U-locks account for only four percent of all stolen bikes.
–Register the bike with Metro Transit Police. It will help with possible recovery and proof of ownership. Also keep the serial number on hand.
–Only use the authorized bike racks. Locking to a railing or a street sign may seem secure, but thieves scout for weak spots.
–Use more than one U-lock to protect against the theft of wheels or seats.
Officer Yashinskie says they look out for some tell-tale behavior while on sting duty.
“The first thing you want to look at is anybody actually showing interest in walking by the bikes, looking at the bikes, possibly looking at the locks,” Yashinskie says he looks for a backpack or bag that could hold some bolt cutters. His team will sit back and wait until interest turns to action.
“And once that happens we got them.”