For about two weeks, Bellingham Police rolled bicycles that were a favorite of thieves into Sunset Square, Cornwall Park and the library on Central Avenue – some of the places in the city known for bike thefts.
They left the bikes unlocked. Then waited for thieves to take the bait.
Seven times they did, the BPD said. That led to nine arrests as part of the Neighborhood Anti-Crime Team’s efforts to curb bicycle thefts.
Enforcement is part of that attempt to drive down the numbers.
“The statistics for bike thefts in Bellingham are starting to trend downward a bit, but not enough to preclude us from doing specialized enforcement techniques,” Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht said Tuesday.
“These techniques reduce the lucrative nature of bike thefts by adding the dimension of risk of being captured if a person chooses to steal a bicycle,” he added.
The Neighborhood Anti-Crime Team has been meeting with community advocates to address bike thefts, and also has been pushing people to lock up and register their bikes.
During late summer and fall, the team held weekly events at the police station and elsewhere to tell people about the importance of documenting their bikes’ serial numbers through websites project529.com/bellingham and bikeindex.org.
The online bike registries aim to thwart online sales of stolen bikes.
Serial numbers allow police to trace recovered bikes back to their owners.
The number of bikes stolen in Bellingham annually varies, with 271 reported last year. The highest number of thefts within the past five years was in 2014, when 433 were stolen.
Downtown, Sehome and Roosevelt neighborhoods had the highest number of reported thefts for the five years ending in 2016, police said.
Trek, Specialized, Diamondback, Scott and Kona are among the brands popular with thieves.
Stolen bikes are traded for drugs, or used by thieves to get around, police said. They’re posted online for sale by people trying to make a quick buck; police are tipped off when a bike valued at $1,000 is listed for $200, for example.
Police said thieves modify the bikes, either by painting the frame or changing the components, so they’re not easily recognizable. They also grind away the serial number to hide that the bicycles had been stolen.
Frustrated owners have taken to social media to complain about chop shops they see in plain view and to ask the community of cyclists to be on the lookout for their stolen bikes. There’s a Facebook page called the Bellingham Stolen Bicycle Group.