The proliferation of bikes means the proliferation of bike thieves. Get your bike stolen in NYC and you can rest assured it's gone—you've got a better chance of finding your lost heirloom necklace floating in the ocean and a much better chance of finding a frog in your Pret a Manger salad.
Not in San Francisco, though. The SFPD takes that shit seriously—particularly with the number of $7,000 Specialized cycles favored by the wealthy technorati, casually locked outside start-up HQs and tossed into Painted Lady garages to avoid vom-splatter during keggers. And unlike the NYPD's bumbling attempts to incorporate social media into its PR strategy, the SFPD has masterfully designed a system to catch thieves using Twitter and GPS-enabled "bait bikes," designed to lure criminals, catch them and shame them on social media. The Times made a charming video on the matter:
"If we want people to get out and ride their bikes, they have to get out and ride without fear of them getting stolen," said Officer Matt Friedman, head of the SFPD's anti-bike-theft unit, which, incredibly, actually exists.
The premise is simple: Officers lock up one of the GPS-rigged bait bikes, and wait for a thief to attempt to snip the lock. The above video shows an instance of the scoundrel casually grabbing the bike and beginning to ride away—"And look at what happens next!," Friedman chirps gleefully as a scrum of officers set upon him like a pack of hyenas. "Down goes the bike thief!"
Better yet, the department is also waging psychological warfare on bike thieves, handing out stickers to riders that read "Is This A Bait Bike?" to affix to their own non-bait rides. OR ARE THEY?
"The whole idea is to let thieves know any bike, at any time in the city of San Francisco could be one of our bait bikes," Friedman said. "So if you steal a bike, you'd better believe we're going to be coming for you." Once he's come for you, so to speak, Friedman further delights in tweeting out the thieves mug shots at @SFPDBikeTheft.
Bike bait is similar in spirit to Operation Lucky Bag, a famously failed tactic in which the NYPD attempted to trap purse thieves by leaving bags stuffed with valuables in places like Central Park and on subway seats. (It was roundly criticized as deterring Good Samaritans who might have attempted to bring the bags to authorities.) Of course, catching criminals with a bait bike avoids Lucky Bag's questionable morality, since the lock first has to be snipped, thereby proving wrongdoing.
We've emailed the NYPD to see if they plan on incorporating a tactic like this, but given their chilly (some might say downright hostile) attitude towards cyclists, we can't see Commissioner Bratton starting an Anti-Bike Theft unit here anytime soon.