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Police to use decoy bikes to catch thieves red-handed
Cyclists have for years been asking that police deploy "bait bikes" in their efforts to combat bicycle theft - and now a change in Belgian law may allow authorities to do just that.
Using bait bikes has not been possible in the past because of concern that it counts as "entrapment" under the law, meaning it "tricks" someone into committing a crime in order to then arrest them for it.
But Belgium’s federal justice minister Vincent Van Quickeborne (Open VLD) said that, by amending the law, at the request of “many local authorities and police districts”, police will soon be able to use bicycles equipped with GPS devices to track down thieves.
Last year, an estimated 22,000 bicycle thefts were reported to Belgian police, Bruzz reports.
“Perhaps the actual number of bicycle thefts is much higher as by no means all victims report them,” Van Quickeborne’s office said in a statement.
“Many assume that reporting the theft will be to no avail, but without a report there is no chance at all of the police being able to return the bike.”
Decoy bikes to bait thieves are already being used to a limited extent by some police zones, but only under the category of "special investigation methods", which can only be applied if there are indications of organised crime, which is not always the case with bicycle thefts.
The current law stipulates that a magistrate must authorise the placement of a decoy bike each time, and a confidential file must always be created and specific official reports drawn up.
Brussels has also been experimenting with decoy bicycles since 2016, but the method met with legal resistance.
In 2016, for example, a pilot project with decoy bicycles was discontinued at the request of the Brussels public prosecutor's office because it violated procedure.
According to Van Quickenborne, that procedure was “unnecessarily complicated” and has therefore been modified.
“The advantages of decoy bikes are numerous,” Van Quickenborne said.
"Less cumbersome procedures and less administrative workload should ensure that the decoy bike is deployed more systematically by the local police.
"As a result, more thieves can be caught red-handed and plagues of often systematic bicycle thefts in a city or region can be stopped more quickly."
The cyclists' ssociation Gracq welcomed the change. “Today, bicycle theft is too easy and harmless,” said the group's communications manager Gaël de Meyere.
“This is a major barrier to cycling in Belgium. The use of bait bikes will make it possible to combat these thefts more effectively.”
The bill was approved by the Council of Ministers before the summer recess and will head to parliament after advice from the Council of State.