GPS helps RUPD arrest bike thieves

A GPS device attached to “bait bikes” on campus literally led to the arrest of two bike thieves Jan. 25 by Rice University Police Department (RUPD). The thieves were not Rice students or employees.

The first theft occurred around midnight near Brown College. As the thief began to pedal the stolen bike, the sergeant on duty received a text from the GPS company and alerted the RUPD dispatcher to track the device as it moved across a Google map of Houston. Within five minutes, Rice police found the thief, arrested him for possession of university property and took him to Harris County jail.

The same scenario played out at 10 a.m. when another thief made the mistake of stealing an RUPD “bait bike” near Brown College. He too was caught within five minutes and taken to jail.

In both incidents, thieves took the “bait bike” within two hours after the bike was locked to a rack.

Another arrest was made Feb. 9 after a bike with the GPS device was stolen near the BioScience Research Collaborative.

“We’ve seen an uptick in bike thefts in the Houston area,” said Sgt. Gary Spears. Thieves typically sell bikes to pawn shops for $50 to $100 or on the street for $10 to $20, he said.

Spears credited the West University Police for the idea of using a Global Positioning System (GPS) to track stolen bikes. “We borrowed their device and it worked well, so we bought our own,” he said. An officer attaches the inconspicuous device to one of the unclaimed bikes that RUPD has accumulated over the years and then locks the bike to a rack with a cheap cable. Spears preferred not to provide a description of the device and where it’s placed so that he doesn’t inadvertently tip off the criminals, “although I doubt that any of these thieves are reading Rice News,” he joked.

A total of five arrests have resulted from the GPS technology.

RUPD made its first GPS-enabled arrest last September. “Our first guy was also our second success,” Spears said. “After the first arrest, he was sentenced to 10 days in jail. Two weeks later he came back to campus and stole another bike that happened to have our GPS device. We arrested him again, and he was sentenced to 50 days in jail.”

The thief’s first two offenses were misdemeanor crimes; a third offense would have been a felony, but RUPD intervened before the repeat offender made off with another bike. They spotted him on campus again and arrested him for trespassing, which put him in jail for 100 days.

Spears reminds Rice students and employees who have bikes on campus to register them with RUPD. “If we have the serial number for a bike, we have a better chance of finding it if it’s stolen,” he said.

Bikes can be registered online at Click on “Bike registration” under the “Prevent a crime” heading.

He also advises bike owners to lock their bikes correctly with a U-bolt. RUPD sells U-bolt locks at a discounted rate to students, faculty and staff.



About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.