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GREENVILLE — A Wilson mother has accused police of targeting minority neighborhoods through a "bait bike" program, but police officials disputed the claim, saying that a variety of GPS-equipped items have been left around town without targeting specific neighborhoods or demographics.
Jen May took to Facebook on Wednesday night after her son, 17-year-old Sabori Ebron of 4725 Quaker Road, Wilson, was arrested and charged with stealing a bait bike.
Bait bikes are equipped with a GPS tracking device and are commonly used by police departments to catch thieves. The Greenville Police Department says the bikes are placed in areas where thefts are common. When someone attempts to remove the bike, officials are alerted and the stolen bike is recovered and an arrest is made, usually within minutes.
May said said Ebron was visiting friends in Greenville's Meadowbrook subdivision.
"My son was visiting his old neighborhood, just visiting friends," May said, adding that he got on a bicycle that was near a basketball court on Van Dyke Street.
"Kids ride each other's things," she said. "He jumped on the bike, and he didn't make it across the street before officers pulled up."
May said Ebron was arrested and taken to the Pitt County Detention Center where he was placed in a holding cell for four hours.
Arrest warrants indicate Ebron was charged with stealing a gray Magna Great Divide mountain bike valued at $100. He was booked under a $1,000 bond. His charges were larceny and possession of stolen goods. His court date is scheduled for July 18.
"My son is completely in shock," May said. "That's where he grew up at. Even if you want to teach him a lesson, this is extreme and is too much."
She added, "The whole thing people are saying to me is that these bikes are placed in high-crime areas. At the end of the day they're kids. Kids do what kids do. I understand that touching a bike that's not yours is wrong. I'm not condoning what my son did. We are in a neighborhood known for people riding each other's bikes."
Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman said the use of GPS devices is guided by complaints, not minority targeting.
"The Greenville Police Department's policy is not to target specific neighborhoods or demographics based on racial concerns," Holtzman said. "We focus on crime patterns and being responsive to the community's needs."
Holtzman said the bike Ebron stole was placed in an area known for frequent bicycle thefts.
"We put GPS tracking devices on many different items, including bikes," Holtzman said. "We also track leaf blowers, lawnmowers, portable generators and other items that get stolen quite often around the community."
Police spokeswoman Kristen Hunter said the department has been using GPS tracking units for years.
"We have eight GPS devices that we purchased two years ago," Hunter said. "They're not just used on bicycles. That's one item where they can be used. If we have a lot of car break-ins, they could be used on items placed in cars."
Holtzman said the department's use of GPS devices is tailored specifically to the community's needs.
"We look at our crime patterns and complaints and we determine if they're property crimes," he said. "We see if it's workable to use GPS to help us locate the person stealing the property."
"We take the device and put it inside similar property being stolen in the community and we tailor the response to the crime pattern or the crime problem we're seeing," Holtzman said.
A Greenville Police Department case report indicates that Ebron stole the bike from East Dudley Street at 5:23 p.m. Hunter said this area was not at a basketball court.
"The location is behind one of the housing authority buildings near an entrance," Hunter said. "Officers found Ebron to be in possession of the bicycle with a GPS tracking device."
May said the police department over-responded to the incident and says her son should not have been arrested and charged.
Hunter said three police cars responded to the area, but one of the cars came to retrieve the bike and relocate it. She said officers are assigned to different areas and work in teams as opposed to a single officer patrolling the neighborhood alone.
"Three police cars responded," she said. "A lot of our officers who work at that level do work in teams. And often ride together. It wouldn't be unusual for more than one officer to be in the area."
Holtzman said that prior to Ebron's arrest, neighbors from the Meadowbrook subdivision were filing complaints about bicycle thefts.
"We have officers that work in the housing area and the officers received some complaints from residents about a lot of bicycles that were being stolen in the neighborhood and they asked the housing officers to stop the thefts," he said. "So they put a plan together and decided it would be a good idea to use the GPS device to identify who was stealing the bicycles.
"They tailored the response to the complaint and the crime pattern that they had," Holtzman said.
Hunter said Ebron was not carrying any identification when officers encountered him.
"The officers could not find him in any database to verify his identity," she said. "For that reason, he was taken to jail. The magistrate initially issued him a $1,000 secured bond, but officers worked with the magistrate to make sure when someone came with his ID, he could be signed out without having to post bond."
Hunter said people need to leave property alone if it doesn't belong to them.
"The biggest message for us is a reminder to people that you don't take property that isn't yours."