UT Police Department uses GPS in order to catch bicycle thieves

Victoria Pagan

In an effort to catch bicycle thieves, UT Police Department has been planting “bait bikes” with GPS trackers around campus since January.

When former officer Larry Robertson came across GPS technology as a way to track personal belongings, the workings of a UT program to plant GPS trackers on bicycles began, said Officer Roberto Gonzalez.

“This program has developed over a long period of time,” Gonzalez said. “The whole premise with this program is to do community policing projects as individual officers to address property theft, which is the No. 1 crime on campus.”

The program was meant to be kept under wraps for as long as possible but was discovered when the arrest affidavits of individuals caught through the program reached public records, said Captain Julie A. Gillespie.

“About five arrests have been made,” Gillespie said. “They have all been different, but the majority of them have been repeat offenders.”

Bike thefts on campus also had no specific patterns regarding time or location, she said.

“We run three shifts a day, and all three shifts have been involved in the arrests,” Gillespie said.

The baited bikes are placed in various high-traffic bike areas around campus and are under constant surveillance, Gonzalez said .

“Their services use global positioning along with the wireless cellular data networks and satellite mapping to enable the user to follow and track their assets on the Internet,” Gonzalez said.

UTPD collaborated with other organizations — including the Orange Bike Project, a campus initiative that allows students to rent and fix bicycles — to gather information and resources needed to get the project in motion, Gonzalez said.

“Roberto Gonzalez asked for any services or resources that we could spare and help them with setting up the program,” said Orange Bike Project coordinator Desiree French. “We had our volunteers pick out a bicycle that would work out for their bike program and also donated lesser quality bike locks, self-locking cables and older version U-locks.”

Psychology senior Joey Cheng said he hopes the project can help others from feeling as hopeless as he did when his bike was stolen in West Campus in Fall 2009.

“I actually didn’t report my bike stolen,” Cheng said. “I didn’t think the police could do anything really.”