Like a lot of Portland institutions, Reed College has a problem with bike thieves.

Unlike a lot of Portland institutions, Reed College has its own security force with strong ties to local law enforcement.

Gary Granger, director of community safety at Reed, says the Southeast Portland campus sees about 30 to 40 reported cases of stolen bikes annually. But the campus, which is open to the public and easily accessible to visitors, would like to bring that number down. Officials considered building secure storage facilities for bikes, but that seemed too expensive.

"In the security world, prevention is really the cheapest, most effective way to keep things from being stolen," Granger says. "And since we're not going to build a fence up around the place, if we could convince people who want to steal bikes that this is a bad place to steal them because they might get caught, that seemed like a good idea."

Last week, they found a $200 solution.

Around 2 pm Friday, campus safety officials attached a $200 GPS device to an abandoned bike on campus (pictured below), then used a cable lock to secure it to a regular old bike rack next to a campus dorm.

Six hours later, the device sent an alert to a campus security official—letting him know someone had moved the bike more than 10 feet. 

"It didn't take long," Granger says.

An online map tracked the bike's movement, and campus security officials were able to use it to spot a suspicious vehicle on campus.

They initially called the Portland Police Bureau, and an officer came to campus. Reed officers don't make arrests. But recovering stolen bikes isn't a top priority for Portland officers, and the Portland officer told Reed officials he wouldn't be able to respond immediately.

By then, the bike had crossed into Clackamas County, according to the GPS device. So Reed officials called the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office with the description and license plate of a van they thought carried the bike.

Within 20 minutes, an officer in Clackamas County called Reed's security officials with good news—an arrest. "Hey, we would love for you to come down and get your bike," Granger says the officer told Reed employees.

Granger says Reed will continue to use bait bikes with GPS devices.

"The intent here is not to have a really successful thief-catching program," Granger says. "The intent is to convince people in the community who might want to steal bikes that this is a bad place to do it."