Brussels’ ten-year war to catch crooks with ‘bait bikes’
Share article:
Share article:

Brussels’ ten-year war to catch crooks with ‘bait bikes’

Almost ten years after first considering the idea, the Brussels police may finally be able to implement “bait-bikes” equipped with GPS trackers to lure and follow would-be-thieves.

The technique, which originated from the Netherlands and has already been successfully implemented in Ghentallows police to trace the stolen bike to its location and apprehend the culprit.

The idea of bait bikes was first brought to the capital some time ago under State Secretary for Mobility Bruno De Lille in 2009, according to Florine Cuignet from cyclist action group GRACQ.

“At this point, De Lille started working together with the public prosecutor and two Brussels police zones to deploy the bicycles to monitor thefts,” she recalled.

The use of decoy bikes was then publicly announced in 2014 by De Lille as part of a new strategy in the Brussels Capital Region to tackle bicycle theft. The original aim of this initiative was to form a better picture of where stolen bicycles end up in order to devise an effective prevention policy.

However, the use of this technique wasn’t approved by the government until 2016, at which point seven bait bikes were prepped and dispatched to the police by Bruxelles Mobilité, according to Sofie Walschap of Bruxelles Mobilité.

Since then, however, none of Brussels’ six police zones have put them into practice.

“We worked a lot on trying to implement these bait bikes, which had been approved by the government in 2016, but the Brussels public prosecutor’s office was not willing to take this to the final steps,” explained Walschap.

Sometime last year, Olivier Slosse, spokesman for the Brussels Capital-Ixelles zone was told by the Brussels Public Prosecutor’s office that there would be a possibility for the police to implement these bikes. However, before that could happen, various administrative and legal hurdles had to be overcome.

A Very Belgian Bike Theft Problem

According to Slosse and various cyclist organisations, legal complications are the main reason bait bikes are being kept off the streets of Brussels. 

“These bikes have been available in Brussels for quite some time, which is definitely an advantage. However, to implement the use of them is quite challenging from a legal perspective, as they involve detection techniques, and there are certain rules around these techniques that are not always easy to follow,” Slosse said.

“Right now, we have someone in our department who is compiling this case file, and is researching the legal requirements to be able to implement these bait bikes on a larger scale,” he emphasised, so they can ‘completely avoid committing or provoking crimes’ themselves.

However, the creation of such a file, a key factor in the push to launch the bikes, could prove complicated due to a lack of data on bike thefts in Belgium.

“We have very little data on bike thefts, we just know that they take place everywhere in Belgium, from Brussels, to Ghent, to Antwerp,” Luc Goffinet from GRACQ explained. 

Although some police officials are working to catch bike thieves, Goffinet believes the prosecutors don’t want them to use bait bikes because they don’t want more cases. “Right now, they don’t see [bike theft] as a priority, and we don’t understand why,” he added.

Further issues arise from the disagreement between both sides of the argument with what to do with culprits once they have been caught.

On the one hand, the public prosecutor’s office agreed to the bait bikes under the condition that the thief will be arrested immediately, according to Walschap.

On the other hand, doing so minimises the effect of the main advantage to this system, as it makes it more difficult to implement it as a strategy to tracking down and catching gangs by using these vehicles to understand the large patterns behind these thefts, Walschap explained. 

“If a thief is caught red-handed now, they will be in trouble for a short while, but those people are eventually released. If you can follow the bike to the depot and dismantle the gang behind it, that is a cut in the chain of such a gang, and also the police can find and recover many more bikes at once.”

Related News


Progress Before The Summer

“This is a measure that is easy to implement and that can really have many benefits,” Walschap concluded.

Looking at the bigger picture, communicating the success of tackling this problem at the root in this way may provide a sign of hope and change the minds of people who do not want to invest in a bicycle because they are afraid of theft. 

“We think this is a very interesting technique, and are now preparing the proposition to get it approved so we can implement this legally,” Slosse told The Brussels Times. “We hope that this can be implemented before the summer.”

The Brussels Public Prosecutor’s office did not respond to a request to comment on the new plans.

Lauren Walker and Helen Lyons
The Brussels Times

Latest news

EU decides to activate emergency brake against new COVID-variant but stops short of flight ban
The new COVID variant detected in South Africa has put the EU on alert and prompted the Council’s Integrated Political Crisis Response (IPCR) to ...
Belgium imposes entry ban on travellers from southern Africa
Belgium is introducing an entry ban for travellers from several countries in the south of Africa following concerns about a new variant (B.1.1.529) ...
Cheat Sheet: New Rules, Quiet December Nights
It's been a while since we've had measures complicated enough to deserve a cheat sheet, but less than a week after Belgium rolled out new measures, ...
Belgium records highest number of new cases since start of pandemic
An average of 16,762 infections per day is now recorded in Belgium, with an absolute record of more than 25,000 infections in one day last Monday, ...
Brexit: trade and travel disrupted as French fishermen blockade ports and Eurotunnel
On Friday, the national committee for the French fishing industry has coordinated a blockade of three French ports as well as lorries bearing freight ...
Belgium implements ‘package of strict measures’
Not even a week after the previous measures came into force, Belgium is taking stricter measures to stop the fourth wave in the country, announced ...
Even with strong action now, ‘we will still have a few weeks of misery,’ says Vlieghe
Even if the Consultative Committee takes powerful and clear decisions today, Belgium will still have to endure a few weeks of misery while the number ...
Brussels tunnels blocked by Uber driver protest
Several tunnels in the centre of Brussels were blocked on Friday morning by Uber drivers protesting against a ruling by the Brussels Court of Appeal ...
Police strikes at Brussels and Charleroi airports cause delays
Police unions are taking action at Brussels and Charleroi airports this Friday morning, causing delayed services at both locations. At 7:00 AM at ...
Black Friday not your bag? Try Green Friday
Today is Black Friday: a North American custom that has made its way across the Atlantic and is when retailers aim to draw consumers in with low ...
Study links social media use with depression in adults
While social media has been linked to anxiety and depression in teens, a new study now suggests that adults are also susceptible. In Belgium, a ...
Nearly half a million of lives saved by COVID-19 vaccination in Europe, new study shows
A new study published on Thursday estimates that at least 470,000 lives have been saved among those aged 60 years and over since the start of ...