How to Outsmart a Bike Thief (BU Today)

October 7th, 2010 in Bicycle Safety

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A tripling of bike thefts last month compared to September 2009 has University police urging bikers to splurge on bolt cutter–resistant locks and to take other precautions.

Thieves stole 41 bikes in September, compared with 13 the previous September. So far, they’ve walked or ridden off with 76 bicycles in 2010, versus 59 in 2009, says Scott Paré, deputy director of public safety and BU Police Department deputy chief.

“Students should lock their bikes with an effective lock, such as a Kryptonite or U lock,” he advises. School of Social Work consultant and analyst Seth Pritikin (MET’06, GSM’10), a member of BU’s bicycle safety committee and advisor to the student group BU Bikes, recommends the Kryptonite series 4 or better, starting at $65.

“The cable or chain locks can be quickly defeated with a pair of bolt cutters,” Paré says. “Students should make use of the bike racks and avoid the decorative fencing, benches, or meters.” Dwight Atherton, director of parking and transportation, says that his department “will remove bicycles that are locked to handrails on stairways, to safety equipment, and to benches on the Charles River Campus.” He reminds students that there are many conveniently located bike racks in the parking lot behind the College of Arts & Sciences.

Students “should also make use of the bike cages, especially when storing the bike overnight,” says Paré, referring to recently installed indoor storage spaces, such as the 447-spot fenced area at Warren Towers and the 50-bike South Campus space at 504 Park Drive. Those are the safest parking spaces on campus, according to Paré.

He urges students to keep an eye on these bike parking and storage areas and to immediately report suspicious loiterers or behavior to the BUPD. Meanwhile, he says, the police have upped patrols, marked and unmarked, of bike parking spaces, and boosted the presence of uniformed and plainclothes officers. Monitoring of theft locations and times allows the police to match resources to robbery hotspots.

Cyclists are also encouraged to register their bikes with Parking and Transportation Services. Each registered bike gets a numbered decal for its frame, which facilitates a return to the owner if the bike is lost and then found, Atherton says.

About 800 people have registered their bikes so far.

Bikes are by far the biggest thief magnets on campus, with laptops and other electronics “a distant second,” Paré says. Bike-stealing typically spikes in September and October, as students return to campus and the fall weather makes for comfortable riding, for students and thieves. Thefts plummet along with the mercury and bike ridership beginning in November, he says, then rise again with spring’s warmth.

Last week, the police arrested a student who took an unlocked bike and nabbed another who was carrying a bike with him as he rode his own. In the latter case, however, authorities couldn’t prove the bike on back had been stolen, Paré says. Penalties for theft vary, depending on such factors as the suspect’s criminal record.

Boston put a bike path on Commonwealth Avenue two years ago, and police theorize that the jump in bike thefts ties directly to an increase in riders. Pritikin agrees that “the larger number of bikes would create a greater number of possible thefts. Also, a more active cycling community might be more interested in reporting theft.”

He suggests finding safety and other information here.

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.