Bike theft is a major issue throughout Sea to Sky, averaging four or five thefts per week in Whistler since the start of summer, and three or four thefts per week in Squamish.
To fight back, the Sea to Sky RCMP has announced a new anti-theft program, Sea to Sky Free Ride, that includes the use of bait bikes equipped with GPS trackers.
"Bike theft across the region has steadily increased over the last few years to the point where we, as police, had to try a new approach to stop it," said Sergeant Rob Knapton of the Whistler RCMP. "The S2S Free Ride Program will allow us to track and recover the stolen bikes and will help identify the people responsible for the theft."
Knapton said he couldn't reveal how many bait bikes were in use or what system they were using, but said they were in operation in both Whistler and Squamish. As well, the trackers are being used on every type and size of bike, from secondhand $200 bikes to $6,000 downhill bikes.
As well as catching thieves and recovering bikes, the bait bike program was also created to discourage thieves from stealing in the first place.
"Anyone considering stealing a bike needs to know that our S2S Free Ride bikes are out there, and they won't know which ones they are," Knapton said. "If you happen to steal one of our bikes we will know exactly where it is and we will be coming to get it back."
While thieves are cutting locks, climbing onto balconies and breaking into homes to steal bikes, owners are also continuing to leave bikes unlocked and unattended. There were two bike thefts reported this past week in Whistler and in Pemberton, which is well below average — in one of those cases a bike was left unlocked in the Marketplace area.
In addition to the bait bike program, the RCMP is also working on a public education program that will be rolled out in the next few weeks. The program will include flyers, which will be distributed to people in the village and available at hotel front desks, plus bait bike stickers that people can put on their bicycles. They will also have an education tent at Crankworx.
Knapton said in a follow-up interview that the program was necessary from a victim impact perspective. "Mostly (bikes) are not insured (because of the cost) and when people have their bikes stolen it has a huge impact — it's a big issue for them and we're treating it as such," he said.
The RCMP provided this advice to owners to keep their bikes safe:
• Lock your bike no matter how long you are leaving it for. Often bikes are stolen within minutes of being parked. Don't trust locks as they can removed with minimal effort. Take the extra step and remove the seat or a wheel as an extra deterrent.
• Underground parking lots at apartment/condo complexes are continually targeted. If you are required to store your bike in a designated area, consider multiple locking systems.
• Avoid leaving your bike in or on your vehicle for extended periods of time.
• Record serial numbers, no matter the value, so they can be added to police records. Also, photograph your bike as a reference, and make a note of upgraded components or modifications that make your bike stand out.
Sea to Sky Ride is a made-in-the-corridor program, but since the press release went out last week Knapton said that RCMP in Sea to Sky have been in contact with police officers from other jurisdictions with bike theft issues who are looking for more information to start their own bait bike programs.
A provincial bait car program that has been in place in the Lower Mainland since 2002 has been credited for helping to reduce vehicle theft by 71 per cent. Thefts from vehicles also dropped over 60 per cent.