Gulfport, Florida -- Police are fighting a near doubling in the number of bicycle thefts with "bait" bikes, which are tagged with electronic devices that can communicate with officers.
"Last year we had maybe 50, in the same time period we've seen almost double that," said Lt. Joshua Stone. "Bike theft is common in Gulfport, most prevalent theft."
In the first six months of 2014, bicycle thefts rose to 82 from 48 last year, police said. So the department is adding a technological tool to the available options.
"We've acquired a covert GPS device that we can put anywhere," he said.
Stone can text the device and ask the bike "Where are you?" And the device responds with a text alert when it has been stolen and then police can track it with GPS technology.
The approach is new, and Gulfport might be the first in the Tampa Bay area to deploy the devices. A similar program in San Francisco has been successful there, police said.
"I'd venture: first in Tampa Bay, not sure about the state other departments across the country are doing this," Stone said.
Among the other tactics police will use are:
-- Patrol officers will be stopping bicycle riders who are violation of statutory bicycle regulations. During these encounters, officers will check bicycle serial numbers against a database of known stolen property.
-- The department also will increase neighborhood foot patrols. When officers find open car windows or unsecured bicycles, they will ask residents to make sure the property is locked up.
-- Detectives will identify known thieves and burglars, and will work with St. Petersburg police to do surveillance to target suspects.
They recommend that bicycles be stored inside a garage or shed, and then lock the door when not in use. Police said that most bicycles are taken from porches or open garages.
Police also reported automotive burglaries increased to 74 for the first six monts of 2014 compared with 27 in the same period of 2013.
Police remind residents to lock their vehicles, and remember that cars and trucks parked on a street are more likely to be burglarized. They advise residents to park in well-lit areas, and not leave valuables -- like GPS devices that are common targets -- in view.
To contact police, call (727) 582-6177 or submit your information online here.