A high-tech Redondo Beach police sting operation nets an unexpected bounty: dozens of career criminals

hermosa police bait bike bust

The bait bike led detectives to a trailer park in Hermosa Beach, where five more bikes and methamphetamine was discovered, leading to four arrests. Photo

Detective Sibbald found Barney’s cell phone and discovered he’d already photographed the bait bike so he could sell it. “He had maybe 20 high-end bikes on his cell phone,” Sibbald said. “He was sending photos. ‘Hey man, give me $600 for this one, $300 for this one…’ He was obviously making a killing in the South Bay on high-end bikes.”

The program, in less than two years, has resulted in 35 arrests. Only one was a juvenile. Many were already on parole and several had outstanding arrest warrants. Hink calculates that all totaled, the criminals arrested have been sentenced to over 35 years in jail time. The bike has been stolen one out of every three times it has been deployed.

“For me, it’s not the number of people we have arrested,” Hoffman said. “It’s when you look at how many people we’ve arrested, their criminal histories and how much time they are going to be off the streets because of this program – the number I want to focus on is how many people are not going to be victims now because of this program. We have arrested 35 people. If they are committing one crime a week over the last few years, do the math – that is a lot of people who are not going to be victims now and whose quality of life is improved directly because of this program.”

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The program also has offered a window into the world of the professional criminals. One man arrested last month had a 32-page rap sheet. The criminal histories of the bike thieves thus far convicted include a lot of burglary as well as drug-related and violent crime.

“I have been slightly surprised at the caliber of criminal who has been our most frequent customer,” Hoffman said.

“Career criminals don’t just commit crimes a couple times a year. Career criminals survive by committing crimes. And a high percentage of those arrested are drug users and steal the property to sell cheaply and quickly to support their drug habit – a lot of time it goes hand in hand, the drug users and thieves are one and the same.”

The bait bike program is believed to be the first of its kind. Word of its success has spread, and several other departments have already contacted Hoffman and Naylor for help implementing their own programs. The SIU team, meanwhile, has expanded the concept to other items that Hoffman would not specify, although he noted at least one construction site has successfully been used in a bait operation.

“We are branching out and using the same technology, which is tiny and virtually undetectable,” he said. “We can put it in just about anything you can imagine.”

Naylor said that the technology promises to change the culture of law enforcement. “It is going to change the ways police departments are able to catch criminals,” he said.

Chief Leonardi said that beyond the technology itself, the creativity and commitment of everyone on the SIU team has been essential to the program’s success. RBPD is down more than 20 officers from its peak, when the department had 110 sworn personnel, making the program’s efficiency that much more vital.

“When you don’t have the staffing and resources to deploy to watch things and wait for them to be taken, this becomes a force multiplier,” Leonardi said. “In the 29 years of my career, I could count two or three times I’ve personally witnessed crimes of this nature in progress…This changes that dynamic.”

Next week: The bait bike and beyond.

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Written by: Mark McDermott

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