Locking bikes to street signs is illegal in San Diego
San Diego Police Officer Daniel Neifer spent a lot of his youth in Pacific Beach. One of the rare bad days was the day his bicycle was stolen.
“I went to the boardwalk and stared at every bike that came by and I was imagining what I would do if I found it,” Neifer said. “When we catch bike thieves, I’m thinking about that. I enjoy the arrest.”
Neifer and partner Josh Clabough have caught 109 bike thieves with pricy bikes as bait — the higher dollar value moves the theft charge from misdemeanor to felony. The bait bikes are wired up with different GPS and tracking systems, and they use a couple of different sensor methods to detect if the bike is moved. The result: if somebody takes the bait, Neifer and Clabough get a text and a live trail.
It isn’t easy to catch bike thieves the conventional way. Neifer says they are gone in less than 10 minutes and they’re moving fast on chopping the bikes.
I haven’t found a lock that the thieves can’t penetrate,” Neifer said. “The window is so small, you imagine how frustrating that is.”
So they rigged up a bait bike and busted 109 thieves during their normal night shifts. These days, they have plenty of bikes to use as bait, Clabough said.
Neifer said they want people to know there are bait bikes and thieves are getting caught.
“I want bike thieves to know when they take a bike, they will be arrested,” he said. “Our average apprehension time is four minutes. These guys don’t stand a chance.”
The bait bike program is operating only in Pacific Beach. Mid-City and Central divisions are looking at the program.
“We had an arrest where the guy we arrested was driving a stolen truck, on probation for stolen vehicles, and he had property from four other burglaries in the back,” Neifer said. Another time, the tracking equipment showed the suspect move down a street committing a string of auto robberies after he took the bait.
They caught a 17-year-old youth who was wanted in Washington for starting fires as well as professional crews with a truck bed full of bikes, Clabough said.
Normally, bike thefts are hard to prosecute because they have to be caught in the act, prosecutors need a witness that puts them at the scene stealing bikes, and they have to have a victim who can prove it’s theirs and come to court.
But the cops got lucky and found a deputy district attorney who takes their cases, and they’ve had 107 convictions. The other two defendants are still in court proceedings, Neifer said.
How to reduce your risk of losing your bike to thieves? When you’re out, lock the bike to something sturdy, even if it’s just a few minutes. And don’t ever leave it outside overnight.
“People leave bikes on racks overnight and they come back to tires and frames,” Clabough said.
Locking it to street signs is illegal in San Diego, he added.
Even at home, the bike should be locked to something sturdy if it isn’t inside.
“Many bikes are stolen from garages, porches and balconies,” Clabough said.