The Winnipeg Police Service is expanding a program this summer to new areas of the city where plain-clothes officers will lock up bicycles equipped with GPS tracking devices in order to catch thieves in the act.

Officers said the bait-bike program, which rolled out last summer as a way to curb thefts in downtown Winnipeg, will be extended to cover various areas in the East and West Districts.

Police said anyone thinking of stealing a bicycle should take note.

“We may be watching and we may be coming out to grab you,” said Sgt. Brian Chrupalo, who works in community support.

Chrupalo said officers lock up a bait bike in public and monitor it in person, or track its whereabouts using GPS technology.

“If the bike gets stolen by somebody we track them down, arrest them and process it,” he said. “We’re able to let people know that the program’s out there; it’s a matter of if you want to take the risk if we’re doing it today or not.”

The number of bike thefts in Winnipeg reported to police rose steadily to 2,111 incidents in 2017 from 1,394 thefts in 2014. The number dropped slightly last year to 2,049 thefts.

Bike theft incidents

Chrupalo said police carried out bait bike operations six times last summer and made an arrest each time.

“People are starting to ask, ‘Did I steal a bait bike?’” he said.

‘It really ticks me off’

St. James resident Lori Lucas said two chained-up bikes were stolen from the balcony of a family member’s home earlier this year.

She hopes the expanded bait bike program helps curb thefts.

“It really ticks me off,” said Lucas.

“It’s such an epidemic going on. I can’t even tell you how frustrating it is. They worked so hard to be able to afford this.”

Lucas said one of the bikes which cost $700 has been recovered but a $200 bike is still gone.

Chrupalo said while enforcement may help deter thefts, prevention is also key. He said people need to lock their bike and use the city’s Online Bike Registry so police know who it belongs to if it’s stolen and recovered.

Winnipeg police said officers routinely investigate bike thefts and make arrests. Exactly 170 charges were laid in 2018, 158 in in 2017 and 163 in 2016.

Officers said they’re constantly exploring additional ways to combat bike theft.

Number of people charged in bike thefts