Busting campus bike theft

by Elizabeth Cook

First-year student Harrison Yang went out to the bike rack in front of Kolthoff Hall on Sept. 19 to find that his bike was missing.

Yang had locked the bike with a U-lock and a chain, but, like a scene from “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” both were broken and on the ground where his bike used to be.

He said he parked his $200 bike over the weekend, and it was gone when he returned.

“It just tells me that the University isn’t safe to have your bike locked anywhere,” Yang said.

University Police Sgt. Erik Stenemann said bicycle theft is the biggest public safety problem at the University.

Though the number of bike thefts has declined, it’s still a problem.

There were 334 thefts reported in 2003, 209 in 2004, and there have been 96 so far in 2005.

Stenemann has tried to identify bike theft patterns by charting where bikes are stolen from and when they are most likely to occur.

Stenemann said a heavily concentrated area for bike theft is outside Kolthoff Hall, down to Coffman Union and over to the superblock.

When most of the thefts occur has changed since the start of fall semester.

During the summer months, bike thefts were mostly between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m., Stenemann said.

Now the thefts are happening later in the afternoon and into the evening from 5 to 11 p.m., he said.

Stenemann said this information informs police that most suspects stealing these bikes are juveniles.

Officers caught two bike thieves, aged 11 and 17, on Saturday.

The two suspects were caught with two stolen bikes, one from the recreation center and one from Walter Library, Stenemann said.

There are steps that students can take to protect their bikes from theft.

The most important step is to write down the bike’s serial number, Stenemann said.

Sometimes stolen bikes are sold to pawn shops.

If a victim knows the serial number, it can be posted on the Automated Pawn System, which helps police track what goes in and out of pawn shops, Stenemann said.

The serial number is also posted with the National Crime Information Center, which is an FBI center for all crime information, Stenemann said.

Bike locks also help protect against bike theft, but prevention depends on the type of lock used.

Out of the 96 bikes stolen in 2005, only four of the bikes were locked with U-locks. The other thefts were mostly bikes with cable and chain locks, Stenemann said.

Steve Sanders, the campus bicycle coordinator, said a good lock costs approximately $40.

Sanders said that if someone has the right tools, they can still cut through a good lock, but it’s easier for them to cut through a cheap one.

Sanders also recommends the U-lock.

There were problems with being able to easily open them with pens, but that was before 2002, Sanders said.

Ben Schnabel, the University’s Security Monitor Program manager, said the problem seen in some U-locks is that the

keyhole was barrel-shaped and was prone to being picked open.

U-locks with flat keys are the best kind, Schnabel said.

Students should also pay attention to how they lock up their bike, he said.

The locks should pass through the frame, not just through the wheel, Schnabel said.

Stenemann urged students to call police if they see someone with bolt cutters or anyone who looks suspicious pacing around the bike racks.

“People need to trust their instincts,” Stenemann said.

On campus, there are bike monitors who watch for theft and parking violations.

Schnabel said that a lot of bike monitors see “casing,” which is when someone walks up to the bike racks and pulls on bikes to test if they are unlocked, Schnabel said.

When a monitor sees this, they immediately call the police.

Despite monitoring, some students worry about their bikes on campus.

Advertising junior Jeana Koenig said she always uses a U-lock, but she has had her bike seat stolen twice.

The seats were stolen during her first and second years, she said.

Others aren’t worried at all.

First-year agricultural science student Andy Hampton said he rides to campus from northeast Minneapolis and locks his bike with a U-lock.

“I don’t think about it (getting stolen) a whole lot,” Hampton said.