Buckeyes bug their bikes

An Ohio State program allows police officers to identify stolen bikes.

Andy Steinke

Thousands of bicycles are stolen from college campuses every year and the University’s campus is no exception.

In 2006, 140 bicycles were stolen from campus. This year there have been 109 bike thefts through Oct. 1, according to University police statistics.

Bicycle theft deterrence doesn’t have to be debilitating for university police departments, however. One Big Ten school has found a way to monitor bicycles in case they’re stolen.

In 2004, Ohio State University’s Office of Student Affairs bought a few hundred tiny radio transponders to give away to students. The devices could be inserted into bicycle seat posts to identify the bicycle, said Ron Balser, Ohio State assistant director of university security and communications services.

When a wand-like device, similar to a hand-held metal detector is waved over a stolen bicycle seat, the wand beeps, indicating the bicycle has been reported stolen.

University Sgt. Erik Stenemann analyzes bicycle theft on campus and said University police looked into buying the devices, too. They found the devices wouldn’t have been cost-effective.

“First we would’ve had to put them in every bike, that was a cost of $10 per device,” he said. “We also would’ve had to purchase a few hand-held sensors at $500 apiece.”

Stenemann said the devices are somewhat inefficient, however.

“You have to get within a few feet of the bike for the sensor to go off,” he said. “The only way to find stolen bikes would be to walk up and down bike racks and wait for the wand to beep.”

Another reason University police didn’t purchase transponders, he said, was students’ unwillingness to pay $10 per device.

At least one University student and bike-theft victim would beg to differ.

“Even if the device was $30 I would pay for it,” business management junior Tomiko Johnson said.

Johnson had her bicycle stolen Monday from a bicycle rack outside the Carlson School of Management, according to a University police report.

She bought her bicycle for about $64 and locked it with a cable lock and a U-lock, she said.

Monday night after the theft, she went to buy a new bicycle and new locks.

“Part of me was thinking about buying three locks, but then it’s like they cost as much as the bike,” she said.

Stenemann said the statistics show that U-locks are the best way to prevent bicycle theft. Only 7 percent of the bicycles stolen so far in 2007 were locked with U-locks.

Balser said it is still unclear what kind of impact the bicycle bugging devices have had on bike theft at Ohio State because the program got off to such a slow start.

However, from Aug. 15 to Sept. 15 this year, a span that Balser said was the most likely time for bicycles to be stolen, 18 bicycle thefts were reported. That’s compared to 30 thefts in 2005 and 6 in 2006.

Stenemann said University police are looking into other ways to catch bicycle thieves.

The department is looking into “bait bikes” that would be complete with GPS tracking devices to track criminals.

“They are not great for bike theft, but they would help us catch thieves,” he said.