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Spokane Police use controversial sting operation to arrest bike thieves 

click to enlarge DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo

Spokane Police officers lay in wait outside a Safeway in northeast Spokane where they'd set a trap for potential bike thieves.

The area has seen a rash of property crimes in recent weeks, according to a news release from the department, and officers decided to leave an expensive mountain bike unlocked outside the store.

Police would ultimately arrest three people for allegedly stealing the bike, the news release states.

Spokane Police ran a similar operation last summer, but this year officers borrowed a more expensive bike worth nearly $2,000. Theft of any item valued over $750 is a felony.

"It's easier to get people booked into jail on felonies than misdemeanors," Officer Teresa Fuller says. "Typically, if they're stealing one bike, they're stealing another bike. We'd like to get them booked into jail, photographed and fingerprinted. That makes it easier to address these property crimes, especially if we've never dealt with them before."

SPD also uses a bait car in an effort to address the high rate of vehicle thefts, Fuller says.

Similar tactics are used by departments across the country and have drawn criticism from civil liberties groups, politicians and community members. While police say these sting operations are effective at catching people who are going to commit crimes anyway, critics argue they entrap people to steal.

Police in Chicago recently faced criticism for parking a truck filled with Nike sneakers and Christian Louboutin shoes in a mostly black neighborhood. The Illinois American Civil Liberties Union and local elected officials slammed the Chicago Police Department and the Norfolk Southern Railway Police, who collaborated on the sting, for wasting resources at a time when the city saw a spike of more than 70 shootings in one weekend this month.

Of the three people arrested in the bike sting in Spokane, two of them, Victoria Langolis and Ericka Garber, had warrants for their arrest that stemmed from theft charges. The third, Jonathan Trefz, has previous convictions for trespassing and drug possession.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Bicycle Bait"

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