The San Francisco Police Department's bait bike program has been applauded by the local bike community and subsequently profiled by the New York Times (much to the envy of our colleagues in New York). But the program has come under fire from one activist who claims it could be used to unfairly target the poor.
Officer Matt Friedman, who runs the @SFPDbiketheft twitter account, explained the program succinctly in the NYT's profile:
UNC assistant professor, Princeton fellow and Harvard associate Zeynep Tufekci, however, took issue with the program, wrote on Medium that the expensive bikes left by SFPD were inviting felony convictions among those already disenfranchised in San Francisco, which can only lead to a longer life in crime. Tufekci likens a felony conviction for a stolen bike to the three-strikes rule that has led to overcrowding in California's prison system:
What I’m arguing is that our individualized outrage over small-scale crime is hiding terrible policy effects, and that our “serves the thief right” knee-jerk response—quite understandable from an individual point of view—reflects distorted priorities that makes things worse for all of us in the long run. Similar to misguided three-strikes laws that saw some small-time criminals serve life sentences for minor thefts—like shoplifting— bait bikes designed to trigger felonies can waste lives and resources.
Officer Friedman, on the other hand, responded to the criticism on Twitter, explaining the bikes are not simply left out unlocked for opportunistic types. (Unlike SFPD's reality TV-ready Bait Car program that was quickly halted a few years back.) They are locked up and then swiped by thieves with the tools to do so and the know-how to unload them. Like this recidivist on the street with an angle grinder, or these guys running a chop shop on 13th Street, or a notorious bike thieves in the East Bay.
@zeynep these bikes are all locked thieves cut these locks with bolt cutters or other devices.— SFPD Anti Bike Theft (@SFPDBikeTheft) May 28, 2014