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Santa Rosa police use bait bikes to curb theft

Following a rash of bicycle thefts in downtown Santa Rosa, police arrested three people Monday on suspicion of stealing an unlocked bike put out as bait by detectives to see if anyone would ride away with it.

Similar “bike bait” operations are planned in other parts of the city, police said Tuesday.

“The Santa Rosa Police Department has received numerous complaints about bicycle theft in the city, and specifically in the downtown area of Santa Rosa. The purpose of (Monday’s) operation was to conduct a proactive operation in an attempt to reduce bicycle theft,” the agency said in a news release Tuesday.

Sgt. Dave Marconi, who oversees the property crimes unit, said bait bike operations are deployed randomly in different areas around the city to catch people willing to take them.

“We put (information) out there so the public knows it’s still going on,” Marconi said. “It’s never on a set schedule because we don’t want to tip people off.”

Fausto Ordonez-Restrepo, 25, Edmund Wilson, 55, and Malcom Williams, 49, were arrested on suspicion of grand theft, police said. Ordonez-Restrepo was also arrested for an outstanding felony warrant for vehicle theft, and Williams was also arrested on suspicion of providing a false name to law enforcement and four out-of-county warrants.

Sonoma County was a bike-heavy community even before the pandemic, when many newcomers to the sport took up bicycling as a hobby or exercise activity in 2020, said Eris Weaver, executive director of the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition. Those riders may need to learn how best to protect their property against theft.

“It’s so frustrating, especially for folks for whom a bike is their only or main form of transportation,” she said.

Bicycle owners should keep photos of their bike and record its serial number, Weaver said. You can register your bike any time at stolen.bikeindex.org, which can help increase the chances of getting it back if it is stolen.

“Police officers throughout the county come across numerous bicycles every day in their day-to-day activities. Without information as to the proper owner, officers are unable to take any enforcement action or return the property to its legitimate owner,” Santa Rosa police said in the news release.

The Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition offers a webpage of resources that includes phone numbers for local law enforcement agencies to report a stolen bike. The organization also can help teach you how to lock a bike properly.

“This is often a crime of opportunity,” Weaver said. “People are going to take the one that’s easiest to take.”

The Sonoma County Bike Watch Facebook page is another resource for local people to report found or stolen bikes.

“The more we can get the word out, the better,” Weaver said. “Especially since there’s so many new people on bikes.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at 707-521-5250 or kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

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