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Campus Police Department Puts a Dent in Bike Thefts with Affordable GPS Tracker

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2013-02-04
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A Case Study from North Carolina

Bicycle thefts are a problem in any urban setting, but the issue is especially acute in areas with large student populations, where residents tend to rely on bikes for transportation. With more than 35,000 students, North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh, North Carolina is the largest educational institution in the state system. The NCSU Police Department protects and serves the student population with 50 sworn officers who solve and prevent crime on campus, interacting with the public via mounted and foot patrols as well as education outreach. 

The department deals with the same range of crimes any city police force typically sees, but because of the large student population, the violent crime rate tends to be fairly low while unattended property thefts – including bicycle thefts – are relatively frequent.

“The sheer number of bikes contributes to the theft problem by presenting thieves with more opportunities,” reports Captain Ian Kendrick of the NCSU Police Department. “Also, many students don’t register their bikes or use the solid core U-locks we recommend to deter theft. Some use cheaper bike chains that thieves can easily cut through, giving thieves a more attractive target.”

To curtail bike thefts, Captain Kendrick and his colleagues began studying campus theft trends a few years ago, analyzing data to identify patterns such as days of the week when bikes were most likely to be reported stolen. The department partnered with campus transportation to obtain bait bikes and put them under surveillance to catch thieves in the act. But due to the size of the campus and the unpredictability of the incidents, the department found the tactic didn’t justify the diversion of costly resources.

Department leaders considered technology solutions, such as custom-wired bait bikes, but the cost was prohibitive. Then the department learned about CatchAThiefGPS from Securus, Inc., a leader in GPS safety and security products. CatchAThiefGPS is an affordable, lightweight locator that installs on bikes and in other devices in just minutes and can be set to send email and text alerts when an item is moved from a pre-set zone or exceeds a speed limit. The device updates its GPS location every 30 seconds and transmits turn-by-turn directions via satellite, hybrid or street-level maps on smartphones, mobile devices, laptops or desktop web browsers.

Priced at just $199.99, the CatchAThiefGPS locator turned out to be the ideal solution for the NCSU Police Department, enabling the force to dramatically reduce bike thefts on campus – cutting the incidence of thefts by 33%. The Securus team worked with the department to identify the right device settings and establish safe zones and speeds so that an armed device would transmit its location to department personnel when moved from its location.

Prior to placing an armed device in bait bikes on campus, the NCSU Police Department conducted a bike theft prevention outreach campaign. Officers worked with university officials to encourage students to only bring bicycles on campus if they intended to use them regularly, thereby reducing the pool of target items for thieves. Officers and school officials also encouraged students to register their bikes and secure them with sturdy locks. The department began distributing leaflets on campus to warn potential thieves about the program and urging them to “think before you steal.”

Within the first month of program implementation, officers recovered a stolen bicycle from a repeat offender, using the CatchAThiefGPS hybrid map and turn-by-turn directions to zero in on the thief’s precise location and apprehend him red-handed. Subsequently, the department made four additional apprehensions for a 100% recovery rate, and as word of the program spread, bike thefts fell from approximately 120 over an 18-month period to around 80.

The program has been so successful that the NCSU Police Department began receiving calls from other campus police departments seeking advice on tools and tactics to reduce bicycle theft at their schools. The NCSU Police Department has also expanded use of the CatchAThiefGPS tracker to prevent and solve other crimes, installing a tracker in a laptop to combat thefts at the campus library and deter vehicle break-ins, coordinating activities with the Raleigh Police Department.

“It’s an excellent tool because the CatchAThiefGPS tracker automatically alerts us when the device leaves an area we designate,” notes Captain Kendrick. “We don’t have to put valuable resources on a surveillance detail since the device lets us know when the object is moved, and then we get updates on an easy-to-read map that lets us zoom in on the exact location. CatchAThiefGPS is a great way to prevent crimes and recover stolen items, especially when used with education to improve community awareness.”

CatchAThiefGPS has proved to be an affordable way for the NCSU Police Department to significantly reduce property theft. The device is rechargeable and simple to install and use. Department personnel can monitor the device location 24/7 via an online dashboard that also displays battery levels and allows officers to edit alert preferences and monitor the device location history. The advanced GPS and cellular technologies used enable accurate tracking to within 15 yards.

Learn more about how CatchAThiefGPS can help law enforcement officers track and recover items, as well as apprehend thieves, at http://www.securusgps.com/catchathief.aspx.

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