In San Francisco, one Twitter account is watching over your bikes.
Officer Matt Friedman of the San Francisco Police Department is behind the Anti-Bike Theft Unit, a program that utilizes Twitter and GPS trackers to thwart bike thefts in the city.
The main tools in Friedman's utility belt: "bait bikes" fitted with GPS trackers and left chained up on the streets of San Francisco.
The GPS-enabled bait lets Officer Friedman and the Anti-Bike Theft Unit track bike thefts in real-time — and ultimately nab the thief.
After a bait bike is stolen, the Anti-Bike Theft Unit tracks down the thief, arrests them and then posts a picture of the thief to their Twitter account, @SFPDBikeTheft:
In between shaming bike thieves, the Twitter account also posts advice and tips for bike security and safety — proper locking techniques, registering the bike's serial number with the police and using "Is this a bait bike?" stickers to deter thieves.
In 2012, an estimated 4,085 bikes were stolen in San Francisco, a city that doesn't skimp on the price of its bikes. That haul had a total estimated value of $4.6 million.
From 2006 to 2012, bike theft has increased by 70 percent, according to the New York Times.
But the increase in bike thefts complicates the continued increase in bike use, especially in San Francisco where the city "embarked on a five-year plan to make itself more bike accessible," and ranks fifth in the U.S. in the number of residents that commute by bike, according to the Census Bureau.
Last July, San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved $75,000 to support local efforts against bike theft and strive for a 50% reduction in bike thefts by August 2018. It was this legislation that spurred the creation of the Anti-Bike Theft Unit.
The program follows in the footsteps of anti-theft programs such as the one at University of Wisconsin-Madison, which saw a 40% drop in bike theftsThe program follows in the footsteps of anti-theft programs such as the one at University of Wisconsin-Madison, which saw a 40% drop in bike thefts after initiating a bait bike program.
Police departments across the country are incorporating social media more and more. In 2013, a social media survey [PDF] revealed that almost 96% of police departments in the U.S. use social media in some way — and 80% believe that social media has already helped solve crimes.
The Oakland Police Department "considers social media an important tool" in keeping the public up to date after they managed to successfully use social media to warn neighborhood residents about a mass shooting in 2012.