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Bike Thefts on the Rise

BUPD urges cyclists to use U-type locks rather than chain or cable


Betty Huang thought she’d be in and out at CVS—no need to lock her bike. But the line in the store was long that day last month, and she was delayed perhaps 20 minutes. An unpleasant discovery awaited her outside.

“I got my front tire stolen,” says Huang (COM’15).

She was one of the luckier ones. Following last fall’s fluke of fewer-than-usual bike thefts, two-wheelers are vanishing at more typically elevated numbers this autumn, prompting police pleas that students forgo chain and cable locks (the kind Huang had been using) for U-type locks.

The 26 thefts last month are up from just 9 the previous September, but less than the 34 and 45 of the previous two Septembers, according to the Boston University Police Department (BUPD). Last month’s missing bicycles are valued at more than $10,000, almost double the value of the stolen stash last year.

The BUPD is trying a new idea to reduce the number of thefts: installing a GPS device on a “bait bike” that will lead them to the thief if the bike is stolen. The tactic worked last week when police arrested a 45-year-old man who had cut the chain lock on the bait bike and swiped it, BUPD Chief Thomas Robbins says. There were several thefts after the arrest, and the police have no suspects in this fall’s other robberies. The BUPD plans to roll out a second bait bike over the weekend.

Boston University BU, bike theft statistics, Boston University Police Department, BUPD

Graphic by Kristina Roman

“It’s not typically BU students” who are the thieves, Robbins says. “It’s nonaffiliates of BU, and it’s a crime of opportunity.” Thieves have been targeting bike locations at 595 and 704 Commonwealth Avenue in particular, although thefts have been occurring campus-wide.

Last week’s case-cum-arrest illustrated the ineffectiveness of chain and cable locks, Robbins says. In several instances this fall, thieves have cut the chain, moved the bike to another bicycle stand, and returned later to remove it, he says.

BUPD officers remain puzzled by the sharp decline in bike thefts in fall 2012. “We haven’t been able to put a finger on why there was a downward spike,” Robbins says, other than a possible, unexplained drop in students’ reporting stolen bikes. Officer Peter Shin of the department’s Crime Analysis Unit says bike thefts throughout all of last year were so low that at the current theft rate, this year’s “will exceed all reported bike thefts in 2012 by the end of October.” (See accompanying chart above.)

Robbins hopes that a handful of thieves are responsible for the stealing spree, because in the past, one or two arrests in such cases have dramatically cut the thefts.

In the video above, Scott Paré, BU’s deputy director of public safety and BUPD deputy chief, discusses steps you can take to prevent your bike from being stolen.

Besides using U-locks, which can cost as little as $35, the BUPD offers these tips:

Don’t lock just one tire to a stand with your U-lock—rather, lock the frame as well. Some bikes are stolen for parts to sell to theft rings, and thieves are happy to part the bike from its locked tire and leave the latter behind, according to Robbins.

“I lock my bike with a U-lock around the wheel and frame,” says Matthew Hapenney (CAS’16). “I do it as an extra precaution. Luckily, I haven’t had any parts stolen. Hopefully, that doesn’t change.”

Register your bike with the University. Registered bikes get a number decal that facilitates retrieving your bike if the police find it.

Use bike racks to park your bicycle and use BU’s indoor storage spaces for overnight parking.

Katie Strelitz (SHA’14, SMG’14) once locked her bike to a parking meter. She’d had the bike just a week, she says, and someone “cut my brakes.” Bike racks aren’t ironclad—Strelitz also lost a tire to a thief when she’d locked her bike to a rack—but police say that racks are safer than makeshift parking arrangements like meters.

If you see suspicious loiterers or behavior near bike parking areas, alert the BUPD.

Sonia Su (COM’15) and Irene Berman-Vaporis (COM’14) contributed to this story.

Rich Barlow

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

7 Comments on Bike Thefts on the Rise

  • Andrew on 10.04.2013 at 10:23 am

    I actually watched the police arrest the guy stealing the bait bike in front of the SMG Building. People really need to learn how to lock their bikes up; ULock for the frame and back wheel, chain lock for the front wheel. The key is to deter the thieves; no ULock will stop everyone but it’ll definitely make your bike less of a target.

  • Karen Nardella on 10.04.2013 at 10:27 am

    Rather than installing a GPS on a bait bike why not provide motion detector lights and a camera on BU’s large bike parking spaces. Even with a U lock, it is mostly not possible to include the tire and the frame and the bike rack, unless you’re one of four lucky people who get the outside edges of the bike rack. My girlfriend just had her bike and helmet stolen from the large bike rack we are encouraged to use in the 730 Comm Ave lot by Pavement. More can be done to stop these professional bike thieves and BU should help bikers by providing secure parking options all along its campus.

  • Chris on 10.04.2013 at 12:02 pm

    Pretty good video, but to say they have installed x number of bike racks and then say “don’t lock your bike to parking meters, etc.” is telling. People, myself included, typically lock their bikes to meters and other things when they see no rack space available. We still need more rack space, at least while the weather is nice and so many people are riding.

  • Brendan on 10.04.2013 at 12:14 pm

    Good work, BUPD. Proactively addressing a problem; I’m impressed.

  • Bike Hater on 10.04.2013 at 12:18 pm

    It’s not the university’s responsibility to make sure your bikes are safe anymore then it’s their responsibility to make sure the cars are safe.You students do nothing but complain about everything.You’re never happy with anything.
    Everyone also needs to stop using handrails as bike racks.That is VERY DANGEROUS for people using the stairs.Maybe people should get tickets for illegal bike parking
    just like motorists get tickets for illegal parking.Try it Parking Services,BUPD,and Life Safety Office.

    • BU Alumnus on 10.05.2013 at 9:02 am

      I totally agree.

  • Yicheng on 10.04.2013 at 1:01 pm

    Well done! I just lost my bike in at smg two weeks ago. My question right now is : is it possible that I can have my bike back?

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