San Bernardino police recently made national news thanks to a creative operation.
Cops, dressed in plain clothes or as homeless people, walked up to cars stopped at an intersection. The officers held signs, but instead of saying something to the effect of “need food,” the signs said something to the effect of “S.B. Police. I am not homeless. Looking for seatbelt and cell phone violations.”
Of course, many drivers didn’t pay attention—they were busy texting, talking on a phone or even eating.
Those drivers received citations.
The Palm Springs Police Department also recently conducted a creative operation, of sorts, to combat a common Palm Springs crime: bike theft.
In broad daylight, a marked police department bike was placed as bait, in Sunrise Park and in other areas of the city frequented by homeless people and the less fortunate. Of course, plain-clothes cops were on the watch.
During the operation, three people, all Palm Springs residents, were arrested for grand theft: Gilbert Langford, 43; Marcos Gonzalez, 29; and Charles Wunderlich, 30. Langford was also cited for violating parole; Gonzalez was on probation at the time of his arrest; and Wunderlich allegedly had drugs on him.
Bike theft is a growing problem in Palm Springs, according to the police.
“In 2014, 303 bicycles were stolen in the city,” Sgt. Harvey Reed said. “From Jan. 1, 2015, to July 31, 2015, 191 bicycles were stolen in Palm Springs.”
Lt. Mike Kovaleff declined to discuss details of the Bait Bike operation, because “it would jeopardize future details.” So I headed to Sunrise Park, where there are always plenty of folks who use bikes as their only means of transportation. Everyone I spoke to told me they’d heard of the Bait Bike operation. Kenny, a young fellow with a nice bike (who only wanted to use his first name), said he even served time due to Bait Bike.
“Yep, the cops nabbed me at the Circle K, midday, about eight months ago,” he said. “Got six months for a felony, had priors, served about a month and a half.”
Kenny recalls how it went down. “The bike (had) a carbon fiber frame, cost about $1,300. The cops were in a van, watching it all. They got me on the bike.”
Kenny stopped, scratched his head and reluctantly continued. “I was duped! A lady asked me if I wanna buy the bike. I fell for it. It was entrapment!”
Evidently, the judge didn’t buy Kenny’s explanation. As far as entrapment claims regarding Bait Bike, John Hall, the information specialist for the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office, was not able to comment.
Jose, another young fellow with a cool bike, explained what usually happens to stolen bikes.
“They go on bricks, man! No fool’s selling them to pawn shops; the owners work with cops,” he said. “A ‘hot’ bike is taken apart, and those parts are used to repair other bikes. Bikes are all we got, man!”
Sgt. Reed offered some useful tips on how to protect a bicycle from being stolen. Beyond having a photo of and the serial number for your bike, always lock the rear and front wheels to the frame—as well as the seat.
Most importantly, Sgt. Reed warned: “Never leave your bike unattended or unlocked, even if it’s just for a minute.”