April 4, 2017


Imagine you're walking home in the wee hours of the morning. You spot a pricey looking bike leaning lockless against a tree or a street sign or a bus shelter.

What do you do? Call the police? Whip a spare cable or U-lock out of your bag and affix the abandoned ride to something immobile?

Or do you hop on and pedal the thing to your place for safe-keeping until you can surrender it to law enforcement in the morning?

That's what Ashland, OR resident Marco Antonio Alvarez-Carreon said he was doing in May 2015 when his movement of one of the city's bait bikes led to his arrest on a felony first-degree theft charge.

The Ashland Police Department began its bait bike program in 2013 using bikes in the $400-500 price range. In 2014, however, the relatively cheap bait bikes were swapped out for models worth $1500. Steal an item less than $1000 in Oregon, and it's a misdemeanor; over that threshold and you've committed a felony. Upping the value of their bait bikes thus allowed the Ashland police to hit thieves with a stiffer charge.

Ashland's bait bike program has enabled the apprehension of some big-time bike thieves, and the city's bike theft numbers have inched downwards since the program's inception. The Ashland Daily Tidings reports, however, that critics worry "good Samaritans merely aiming to protect a stranger’s bike from a would-be thief may be swept up in the sting."

Would-be good Samaritan Alvarez-Carreon, who pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of attempt to commit first-degree theft (thereby avoiding a felony conviction on his record) and was sentenced to 18 months probation, believes that the bait bike program should more narrowly target serious thieves and not, to quote the Ashland Daily Tidings' paraphrase, "foolish people taking bikes for rides."

Ashland police chief Tighe O’Meara defends his department's program, however. The bait bikes are left unlocked, he explains, because most bikes stolen in Ashland are unsecured. O'Meara also notes that a felony charge is by no means a foregone conclusion.

"The alarm going off if the bike has been taken is just the beginning of the investigation," he told the Ashland Daily Tidings, "and if somebody has a plausible explanation for what they are doing then that’s fine. If there’s no crime, there’s no arrest."

Calibrate your good Samaritan instincts accordingly.