A new legal framework gives Belgian police a legal basis to deploy bicycles with GPS trackers from now on. Previous limited experiments by some police zones with lure bikes were successful but time-consuming and required the intervention of the magistracy as the method could otherwise be considered a provocation.
The city of Ghent, in particular, pulled the cart to work out a legal framework for bait bikes. Still, other cities, such as Antwerp, Kortrijk, and Leuven, also asked for a simplified procedure as the previous system was cumbersome and unworkable.
80 thefts per day
Some 30 000 bicycle thefts are reported to the police annually in Belgium, accounting for 80 daily reports. The figure may be much higher, as not every theft is registered. After all, according to a study by Vias Institute, only 48% of bicycle theft victims report it to the police.
The phenomenon occurs mainly in cities but is also encountered in rural areas, partly due to the rise of expensive e-bikes and cycling tourists’ bikes. But occasional thieves or organized gangs are hard to catch, even when the bike has a GPS tracker.
Relaxing of the regulation
In late 2023, however, a new law was approved in the federal parliament that has been in force since this year, thus giving the police a legal framework for using lure bikes to catch thieves.
Strictly speaking, the approach fell under the legislation on special investigation methods (SIM), and that was only allowed to be applied by a magistrate if there were indications of organized crime.
But now the lure bike has officially been removed from the SIM Act – the federal government had also included the fight against bicycle theft in the National Security Plan – giving the police a legal basis for a large-scale approach, as in the Netherlands, where some cities use up to 100 lure bikes.
When the lure bike starts moving, an officer is alerted, and the pursuit is initiated. The bike thief can thus be caught red-handed and fined – an immediately payable fine of up to 400 euros, while heavier penalties apply to repeat offenders and gangs.
Provocation is not allowed
In Ghent, where 2 942 bikes were reported stolen last year, the first lure bike was deployed in a demonstration on Thursday in the presence of Justice Minister Paul Van Tigchelt (Open Vld). “I am happy that the minister went in on it,” said Mayor Mathias De Clercq (Open Vld). “Everyone who rides a bicycle should be able to leave it with peace of mind.”
Exactly how many lure bikes will be deployed in Ghent was not disclosed. “We are going to build up the deployment progressively without disclosing details to the public,” said Chief of Police Filip Rasschaert.
However, the police are not allowed to ‘provoke’. For example, using a costly bicycle without a lock as a lure is prohibited. Neither is targeting a gang of thieves with a lure bike. That remains a magistrate’s decision.
In the Netherlands, a bicycle thief is apprehended in two out of three cases where lure bicycles are deployed.