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Cyclists beware: trends in bicycle thefts around campus

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The annual numbers of bike thefts on campus are on the rise. In 2009, 58 bikes were reported missing or stolen on campus. This number has increased by 87 per cent, with 107 cases of stolen bicycles reported in 2012.

This hasn’t always been the case; over the past decade, Campus Police has initiated successful efforts to minimize the problem, including a Bicycle Anti Theft Program in 2005. This program allowed interested cyclists to place identification numbers on their bikes, aiding in the recovery process of stolen bikes and lowering their resale value. The measures seem to have been initially successful, as the number of annual cases decreased steadily from 2005 to 2009.

Since 2009 however, the numbers have risen again. Campus Police explain this increase in criminal activity as a result of the “larger pool of targets” as the number of cyclists on campus continues to rise. This upward trend affects a large population of the university’s daily commuters, as cycling remains one of the fastest, cheapest, and most environmentally friendly modes of transportation to and from campus.

Michael Kurts, assistant vice-president of communications at U of T, speaking on behalf of Campus Police, said that bike thefts usually occur in places on campus where bicycle racks are concentrated. However, such thefts are not proprotionally distributed among all places where there are bike racks; activity reports available on the campus police website show the highest concentration of thefts outside Robarts library and the nearby Rotman Management Centre. Other areas of reported thefts this year include college residences, with multiple thefts reported at New, University, Innis, and Trinity colleges.

Kurts says that there are no locations campus which could be considered safer than others. Kurts says that there are clear steps which can be taken to prevent bike theft; he recommends that cyclists register their bikes in the Toronto Police bike registry, lock bikes with two high-end U-locks, and ensure no quick release parts are left behind.

Kurts says that apprehended individuals usually work alone, but are occasionally are caught working in pairs — while one person acts as a spotter, the other commits the theft. He adds that bicycle theft is an unskilled task, and requires only brute force and minimal tools. Once a bike is stolen, the chance of recovery is minimal. Most stolen bicycles are sold by the thief to a willing merchant, who then resells it at a retail or second-hand shop.

Campus police have implemented measures to combat the issue of bike theft on campus. These measures include Orientation Week events and community presentations in which theft prevention measures are highlighted. Additionally, plain clothes operations are used; these operations involve undercover officers patrolling campus in an effort to catch thefts as they occur. Last year, plain clothes operations led to the apprehension of four would-be bike thieves.  Kurts warns that repercussions of stealing a bike on campus could include prosecution under the criminal code for theft, fines, or possible time in custody upon conviction. To date, 73 bicycles have been reported stolen on campus.