No bikes have been reported stolen on campus since Thursday’s arrest of suspected bicycle thief Jose Ibarra, who police said was probably at fault for the majority of recent bike thefts at Cal State Fullerton.
Ibarra’s arrest could put a cap on the recent spike in bike thefts on campus. About 60 bikes have been reported stolen so far this semester, a jump from 44 reports for the entire 2011-2012 school year.
Ibarra has pleaded not guilty to two counts of petty theft, one count of possession of burglary tools and one count of falsely representing himself to a police officer. His pretrial hearing is set for Oct. 12.
“I think that (Ibarra’s arrest) is significant,” said University Police Cpt. John Brockie. “We were getting hit quite often.”
Even with a higher rate of bike thefts, though, officers are also recovering stolen bikes.
The department currently possesses 36 recovered bikes, Brockie said. Four of them are being held as evidence, which are kept until the theft case is settled or closed. The rest are considered “found property” and must be held by the department for about six months, he said.
“If we have a bike as evidence that we can identify and get back to an owner, then we’ll give it back right away so we can go forward with the criminal prosecution without having to hold onto the bike,” Brockie said, adding that a stolen bike could be returned to its owner in as little as one day.
Within the past year, University Police began running operations in which a bike equipped with a GPS unit is placed somewhere on campus as bait. The expectation is that when a bait bike is taken, the GPS system will guide officers to the suspect’s location.
Brockie said this strategy was not a factor in last week’s arrest; Ibarra was discovered as a result of effective information on the suspect and officer observation.
“We have had our GPS bait bike out (but) we don’t have any arrests to attribute to it yet,” Brockie said. “We’re still getting some of the bugs out of it.”
Police also obtained the physical description of one other person who may have been working with Ibarra, Brockie said.
“I don’t think it was an organized bike ring. I think a couple of people that were either working together or possibly independently that knew of each other,” Brockie said. “Even if (Ibarra) was working with an accomplice, I’m sure the accomplice knows that he was arrested.”
Keeping a bike out of the hands of a thief could be as simple as properly using the right lock.
CSUF student Kevin Haynes, an employee at Jax Bicycle Center on Chapman Avenue, said he agreed with University Police’s suggestion to use “U-locks” instead of chain or cable locks, which can be broken more easily using bolt cutters.
“A cable lock is more convenient… (but) the U-lock is something you can lock your bike with and not have to worry about it,” he said.
The most effective way to use the U-lock, Haynes said, is to remove the front wheel, align it with the rear wheel, and thread the lock through both wheels and the frame.
“I’ve lost a bike to the same thing,” he said.
While many bike-riding students at CSUF dread losing what is sometimes their only means of transportation, Kari Dao, 26, a math major, said she does not worry about it because her bike is not new or particularly expensive.
“Sometimes I don’t even lock it,” she said. “I don’t really think about it (being stolen).”
Brockie said that students should be wary about buying bikes off the street because it is illegal to be in possession of stolen property.
“Some people say, ‘I didn’t know,’ but there’s that common sense part that comes into play. If you buy a $900 bike from some guy that comes up to you on the street and asks you if you want to buy a bike for $50, buyer beware,” Brockie said. “There’s a big possibility it’s stolen.”
University Police strongly urges students to write down the serial number of their bikes and register them with the department so if the bike is ever stolen and recovered, the process of returning it to the owner is streamlined.