Police can make unlimited use of 'bait bikes' to track down thieves

Police can make unlimited use of 'bait bikes' to track down thieves
Credit: Belga

Bicycle theft is still rife in Belgium, dissuading many from making the switch from fossil-fuelled vehicles to two-wheelers. However, a tactic to increase the chances of thieves being caught is being rolled out on a larger scale.

The new legal framework for decoy bicycles came into force at the start of this year. This means police districts and public prosecutors – who had been asking for this procedure for some time – can now frequently use this bait tactic to track down and catch bicycle thieves and gangs red-handed.

"A stolen bike frustrates victims enormously. It also frustrates the police because it is very difficult to catch bicycle thieves in the act," said Justice Minister Paul Van Tigchelt. "With decoy bikes, we can do something about it."

Simplifying procedures

Around 30,000 bicycle thefts are registered with the police every year in Belgium, amounting to some 80 reports a day. But the actual number is likely to be much higher as not all victims report these incidents: many assume that a report is of little use.

However, following investigations, the police regularly find garages or premises full of stolen bicycles. One tool that helps in this process is the 'bait bike', an anonymous vehicle with a GPS tracker. Police are notified when the bicycle is taken and can follow the stolen bike's trajectory.

Decoy bikes were already being used, and their usefulness has been proven. But this often involved cumbersome procedures, as the use of decoy bicycles strictly fell under the special methods of investigation. This meant indications of organised crime were needed to use them, and authorisation was needed from the Public Prosecutor's Office. For police, these procedures were a stumbling block to investing in the bikes.

Now, the large-scale rollout of decoy bicycles is expected to further boost these results by making it easier for authorities to track and identify thieves and organised gangs.

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The police zone in Ghent, a bicycle-loving city that is plagued by theft, has already confirmed it will expand the deployment of bait bikes.

Alongside other measures to prevent theft, such as the on-the-spot fines for bicycle thieves, owners whose bicycles are stolen are also called on to report the theft, as many bicycles that are found can often not be linked to a person.

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