The Minnesota Daily reports an 86-percent increase in bike thefts over a seven-week period on the University of Minnesota campus. They attribute the growing numbers to the limited availability of bicycle monitors on account of redeployment elsewhere on campus, and to riders using poor locks.
Two things struck me as interesting when I was reading the article. First, the university’s use of monitors sounds like a smart idea. Initially, there were intended to monitor bikes blocking entrances and that sort of thing. They only became a deterrent to bike theft after the fact. It seems to me that universities could not only make this one of the responsibilities of campus safety departments, but might also create a bike officer position funded with federal work study monies.
Second, UMPD’s prioritization of people, places, and then possessions makes perfectly good sense when taken at face value. I understand the point of their policy. However, it seems also to reinforce the commonplace notion that bikes are just things, objects, optional and perhaps even recreational items. More importantly, it thereby fails to recognize the peripheral negative ramifications of bike theft, as well as the positive implications of a bike-safe community. Particularly because bike theft is a crime of opportunity, its presence or lack thereof is, I suspect, in direct correlation to the overall character of a campus community. Bikes are “possessions” that can have a significant effect on the sense of “place.”
One more thing to note: the article mentioned that the UMPD keeps a database of serial numbers for registered bicycles on campus. I think this is a fantastic idea. It should be mandatory and enforced to the same extent as rules governing automobiles on campus. The trick is how to do it given that students aren’t always the most responsible and conscientious folk when it comes to abiding by university policies, especially on issues like registering bicycles. One idea might be to conduct occasional traffic stops for students with bikes. If bikes aren’t registered, ticket them. Another option, if funding could be obtained (perhaps from the revenue generated by the sale of automobile parking passes), would be to offer some sort of incentive to register, such as free or discounted u-bolt locks or the like.
On a related note, Finding Gary is an entire blog dedicated to the prevention of bike theft and tips for finding (and hopefully retrieving) stolen bicycles. Yesterday, Joanna posted The ABC of Looking for Your Stolen Bicycle, which offers a number of very practical suggestions.