UCF pumping the brakes on bike thefts. Here’s how

Bait bikes set up in different locations around campus to lure, catch thieves

ORLANDO, Fla. – It’s a problem that’s been plaguing the University of Central Florida for years. With so many students using bicycles as their main form of transportation, bike thieves have found a happy hunting ground at the Orlando campus.

But as crooks have preyed, UCF detectives have adapted.

Detectives are aggressively taking down and taking to jail bike thieves who are brave enough to keep coming back to the UCF campus, in some cases again and again.

Detective Melissa Guadagnino said UCF sees bike thefts daily.

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“We have this one guy who cuts locks and stages them at different bike racks,” Guadagnino said.

Thieves come at all hours of the day and night, some wearing headlamps. They come from all over Central Florida, even taking the bus and getting dropped off on campus. Some ride off with not just one bike, but two at a time.

“It’s very hard but he seems that he knows what he’s doing,” Guadagnino said. “You ride one and kind of tow the other one with your hand and they just go off campus with it.”

Guadagnino said she had to get creative as well to protect students, and in some cases, their most valuable asset.

So under the watchful eyes of the surveillance cameras capturing every corner of campus, UCF police have placed “bait bikes.” They won’t say how many or where, only that they’re moved regularly and they’re being watched.

“It catches their (the crook’s) eye very easily,” Guadagnino said. “It is locked so the person who’s taking it is breaking the lock.”

Crooks who steal the bait bikes are caught often with a backpack full of burglary tools as soon as they try to leave campus.

“We’ve made hundreds of arrests in the last couple of years on this,” Guadagnino said. “Usually the same offender.”

Offenders like Byron Lawson, according to Guadagnino.

News 6 checked Lawson’s record. He’s been arrested nearly 70 times going back to 1989, according to Orange County online court records.

His last four arrests were by UCF police for charges which include trespassing, petit theft, criminal mischief and possession of burglary tools.

And since the campus is open and public, the bike burglars keep coming, and so detectives keep arresting them and bringing back the bikes.

During our interview with Guadagnino, police returned a couple more recovered bicycles, several hundred so far since they started bolstering their bike racks with bait bikes hiding in plain sight.

Detectives recommend using thick U-type locks for bicycles instead of cables which can be easily cut.

Every bicycle has a serial number somewhere on the frame. Guadagnino said storing the serial number with UCF police is the easiest way to get it back to the student after it is stolen.

You can enter your bike’s serial number here.

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About the Author:

Erik von Ancken anchors and reports for WKMG-TV News 6 (CBS) in Orlando and is a two-time Emmy award-winning journalist in the prestigious and coveted "On-Camera Talent" categories for both anchoring and reporting. Erik joined the News 6 News Team in 2003 days after the tragic loss of space shuttle Columbia.