The number of bikes reported stolen in Ashland during the first quarter of 2014 has fallen compared with last year, likely due to a "bait bike" program launched by the Ashland Police Department.
Police fielded 18 reports of stolen bikes from January through March this year, down from 26 stolen-bike reports in the first quarter of 2013, said APD Deputy Chief Tighe O'Meara.
"We're definitely trending in a good direction," he said.
Police began setting out bikes equipped with an electronic tracking device in early October 2013. The device alerts police when a bike is on the move, allowing them to converge on thieves.
The bait bikes are sometimes locked up, while at other times they are left unlocked.
The first bait bike was stolen within hours of being put out, and police cited or arrested five people on theft charges less than two weeks after beginning the program.
In December 2013, police cited three adult members of a Medford family on theft charges after finding a bait bike and another allegedly stolen bike strapped to a bike rack on the family's vehicle.
Before the bait bike program, bike theft — one of the most common crimes in Ashland — was on the rise.
Police received 118 reports of stolen bikes in 2012. That number increased to 135 stolen bike reports for all of 2013, before falling in the first quarter of 2014, O'Meara said.
In an odd twist, a man was reunited with his bike through the bait bike program in late March.
Ashland police had been using a bike as bait that had been found abandoned at Southern Oregon University. Abandoned bikes left on campus have generally been dumped there by thieves, according to City Administrator Dave Kanner.
When an electronic tracking device showed the bike was moving, police responded and found a man had put the bike in his vehicle, O'Meara said.
The man turned out to be the bike's original owner. He had the bike's serial number and a receipt, O'Meara said.
"He was the rightful owner. We're glad he got his bike back," O'Meara said.
Police declined to reveal the man's name. The man did not respond to a request for comment passed to him through the police department.
The man's bike was the bait bike most often stolen by thieves, although it was starting to become known as a bait bike downtown and around SOU, Kanner said.
With the bike back in the owner's possession, it's probably less likely to be stolen again because of its reputation as a bait bike, at least in those parts of town, Kanner said.
O'Meara said police have many abandoned and seized bikes that they can use for the bait bike program.
Police urge bike owners to register their bikes for free with APD. Registration is mandatory in Ashland and helps police reunite stolen or lost bikes with their owners.
Bike owners who complete a registration form will receive a license sticker to put on their bicycles.
The one-page registration form requests information about the owner, including address and telephone number, as well as information about the bike, including serial number, brand and what type of bike it is, such as mountain bike or BMX bike.
The online registration form can be found at www.ashland.or.us/FormPage.asp?FormID=145.