By Kurt Chirbas
Bike theft was the number-one reported crime on campus last year, with a total of 329 bikes reported stolen, according to the Stanford Department of Public Safety’s (SDPS) annual Stanford safety report released last month.
The number represents a modest decrease from the 375 reported bike thefts in 2009 and the 353 in 2008. The decline in reported bike thefts is a “good sign,” according to Stanford bicycle program coordinator Ariadne Scott. She said the number represents around one bike theft per day — at a time when there are approximately 13,000 bikes on campus daily, belonging to both students and staff members.
However, the frequency of bike thefts has not changed “too much” since past years, according to SDPS public information officer Bill Larson in an email to The Daily. Larson noted that SDPS believes an undetermined number of bicycle thefts go unreported by students each year, which could make this number even higher.
The number of reported bike thefts at Stanford is comparable to the figure reported at other California universities with large bike-riding populations. Around 300 bike thefts are reported stolen each year at UC-Santa Barbara, according to the university’s bicycle program officer Matt Stern. And 500 to 600 are reported stolen annually at UC-Davis, according its bicycle coordinator David Takemoto-Weerts.
There are 14,000 bicycles on UC-Santa Barbara’s campus each day, and 15,000 to 20,000 at UC-Davis.
“In the case of Davis, and I think in other big cycling campuses like Stanford and Santa Barbara, you have a high concentration of bikes in a really small area,” Takemoto-Weerts said. “You can practically, as a bike thief, take orders of certain makes and colors and frame sizes…and find that bike just looking around for 10 to 15 minutes.”
The League of American Bicyclists recognized all three of these universities last year for their commitment to bike friendliness. Stanford received the organization’s top “platinum” award, while both UC-Davis and UC-Santa Barbara won the “gold” award.
Focusing on prevention
Last spring quarter, Stanford Parking and Transportation Services (PT&S) conducted a study of the 18,000 bike rack spaces on campus, Scott said.
According to Scott, the purpose of the study was to find out where the highest density of parked bikes was and where on campus there weren’t enough racks to meet the needs of students. She said PT&S discovered that there was a demand for parking spaces at areas such as Tresidder Memorial Union, the Engineering Quad and the new Arrillaga Family Dining Commons.
“There’s a demand for parking, but all of these will be addressed,” she said.
Scott said that PT&S is currently working with Stanford’s planning office to put new racks in these spots and that this may help to curb the number of bike thefts in the future. According to Larson, most of the bikes that are reported stolen on campus were either not locked or not properly secured to a bike rack.
According to Scott, one of the biggest ways the University attempts to fight bike theft is by educating students on how to best protect their bikes, especially during New Student Orientation (NSO) week at the beginning of each year.
“During the new school year, we obviously do focus on new students coming, because a lot of them haven’t been on a bike in awhile,” Scott said. “I hear comments, ‘The last time I rode a bike, I was in grade school.’ So it’s an easy target to focus on those new students coming in, because we want to change their behavior while they’re here.”
At NSO, PT&S emphasizes the importance of registering one’s bike, according to Scott. She said 85 to 90 percent of this year’s incoming freshman class registered their bikes during NSO week, which she said is representative of the percentage of bikes registered in other classes. Bike registration costs $3.50 and is valid for three years.
“The key thing when you register your bike is that you have legal proof that the bike belongs to you,” Scott said. “Say if the bike is lost or stolen, and the bike is returned to Public Safety, then there’s a way to reunite you with the bike, and they can prove that the bike belongs to you.”
Both Larson and Scott said they also recommend students lock their bikes to a bike rack with a U-Lock as opposed to a cable lock.
A plurality of bikes that were reported stolen between June 1 and Oct. 9, however, were also reported to be U-Locked at the time the crime occurred. Of the 136 bikes reported stolen during this time frame, 48 were reported to be U-locked, 43 were cable-locked, 23 were unlocked, seven were chain-locked and 15 were categorized as locked in a miscellaneous manner.
Stern said a similar trend has been seen at UC-Santa Barbara.
“I think that makes sense, because a U-Lock is probably the most widely used lock,” Stern said. “It’s probably the best way to secure your bike — provided that you secure it properly.”
Reporting bike thefts
UC-Davis conducts a campus-wide survey every year to collect data about the travel habits of those affiliated with the university. Last year, Takemoto-Weerts said the survey included two new questions: have you ever had your bike stolen, and did you report the theft?
“The results of those two questions indicated that if 500-600 bike thefts were reported annually on campus, then in reality, there might be as many as 2000-3000 bike thefts taking place, because most people do not report bike thefts,” he said.
Larson said that bike thefts do go unreported at Stanford as well, but that the department is “unable to determine or estimate these percentages.”
According to Larson, students who do not report a bike theft most likely do so either because they don’t feel they have the time or because they feel the “chances of recovery are slim to none.” At Stanford, “very few” stolen bikes are ever reclaimed, Larson said. He did not give numerical data.
He said that the department still encourages the reporting of a theft because it may result in the recovery of the bike, as well as serving statistical purposes that could lead to targeted surveillance of certain areas.
One third of stolen bicycles are recovered at UC-Santa Barbara, according to Stern. Stern said that this number was six times the national average. He attributed the high recovery rate to the fact that the school’s police department heavily enforces bike violations, and because it has 90 employees who are dedicated to bike enforcement.
“Because we have so many bicycles, we have a lot of bicycle enforcement issues, as you’d expect in a city with cars,” Stern said. “So we do a lot of traffic enforcement, and we do a lot of parking enforcement…and every time an officer stops and enforces a bicycle violation, the bikes are checked [to see if they are stolen].”
Bikes are recovered in a similar way at Stanford, Larson said. He said the main ways bicycles are recovered is during a violation stop, during the investigation of a similar or unrelated crime or if the bicycle has been abandoned.
The serial numbers of these bikes are checked against a statewide database of stolen property, called the Automated Property System (APS).
“Even without a bicycle license, we can still enter the serial or frame number and bicycle description into the shared stolen-property database,” Larson said. “However, a bicycle license is much preferred since it would allow us to search the license number for owner information.”
Analysis of thefts
175 bike thefts occurred at student residences last year, according to the Stanford safety report. This accounts for more than 50 percent of the total number of bike thefts that occurred on campus.
“We believe the main reason is because there is usually a higher concentration of bicycles parked at residences rather than at other buildings on campus, especially at night,” Larson said.
According to Larson, Student Housing has hired a private security contractor to patrol student residences at night, and this group reports any suspicious activity — including any possible bike theft — to the SDPS.
He said, however, that a majority of bikes are stolen during the day.
“More bikes are stolen during the day than at night, since there are more bicyclists from on and off campus who attend class, work [and] special events,” Larson said.
Larson said the SDPS believes that individuals from outside of the community, working in pairs or groups, commit the majority of bike thefts, but students have also been occasionally arrested for bike theft.
Takemoto-Weerts said that those outside of the community commit a majority of the bike thefts at UC-Davis as well.
“In the occasional instances where somebody’s arrested, it’s often somebody from out of town. And they catch them in the middle of night driving through campus with a couple of old bikes,” Takemoto-Weerts said. “In those cases, [the suspects] often have a prior record for drug violations. And we think a lot of people are stealing bikes with the idea of stealing a $300 bike, and then you can turn around and sell it for $50 on Craigslist to get your next hit.”
Stern said that he believes students commit a majority of the bike thefts at UC-Santa Barbara. He said students steal bikes either to get extra income, because they are frustrated that their own bike got stolen or because they are intoxicated.
“There’s no free ride when it comes to bicycle safety,” Scott said. “We want people to ride. Safety is our number-one priority, and deterring bike theft is a part of bike safety.”