MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Summer weather and road construction means more people are using their bikes for fun and to get to work.

As the number of riders goes up, so do bike thefts.

Police departments do what they can to keep an eye on thieves, but the University of Minnesota have a unique way of taking thieves for a ride.

“I ride it to the West Bank and then to the pool. Ride it home. I’m always on it every day,” biker Brittany Horn said.

Summer school at the U of M is prime time for bikers — but it can also be easy pickings for thieves.

“I’m all for catching the people who are up to stealing these bikes,” biker Steve Ripley said.

Like a lot of campuses, the U has seen a cycle of theft over the years, and stolen bikes are becoming one of the most common police reports — but it’s not as widespread as it used to be.

“There has been a decrease since the program started of about 33% in the bike thefts specific to campus proper,” officer Chris Fonseca said.

Fonseca is the head of the U’s Bike Bait program that began in 2011. They have 12 GPS devices they attach to different bikes on campus. No two bait bikes look the same.

“So that’s what makes it really hard for the thief to understand that they don’t know if this is going to be a bait bike or if it’s going to be somebody else’s,” Fonseca said.

The GPS is hidden in the bikes and they’re locked up on campus. Once a thief cuts through the lock and takes off, police go for a ride of their own.

“That will send us a notification if it’s touched or somebody takes it and it will go to our dispatch, it will come to the officers and we’ll dispatch the officers to the location,” Fonseca said.

Last year, 30 arrests were made and many of the thieves also had warrants out for drug possession, burglary and trespassing. None of them were affiliated with the U of M, but they were selective about what they were looking for.

Because thieves can cut cable locks with a wire cutter or bolt cutter, officers recommend using a sturdier device like a U Lock to keep your bike protected.

Over the years, they’ve learned that thieves aren’t going away, but at least they’re not spinning their wheels.

“Is it worth taking that bike? It could be a bait bike. It might give you a trip to jail,” Fonseca said.

Other departments across the Twin Cities are now asking the U of M for advice on how the program works.

They expect about 30 more bait bikes arrests this year.

John Lauritsen