Page One

Bikes stolen on campus average over two daily

Bryan Shih Special to the Daily Planet Daily Plane
Thursday October 05, 2000

Be wary of trench coats on warm days. That’s the advice given by Sergeant Powell, Head of the Crime Prevention Unit at UC Berkeley. 

After a brief stakeout last week his unit got its man: a bolt-cutter-wielding bike thief who went to the well one too many times at Worcester Hall on campus. “We caught a career criminal,” says Powell. 

Even if the thief goes to jail, don’t be surprised if the number of bike thefts does not drop as the school year progresses. Since the start of university classes, Aug. 28 through Sept. 21, over 55 bikes worth over $21,000 have been stolen on campus according to UC Police records. 

That’s an average of over two bikes per day although some days show as many as five bikes being stolen. Last year 300 bikes worth almost $100,000 were reported stolen on campus during the entire year, an increase in incidence over the previous year of 44 percent, according to the FBI Crime Index. Only three of those, or 1 percent, were recovered. 

Bike theft is one of the biggest headaches for the campus police department. After general larceny, it is the most frequent property crime on campus. 

Sergeant Powell is not too worried yet.  

“If we get a series going up,” he says he will respond with a “sting” involving a particularly attractive bike. But for the time being, “one a day is not going to set any records,” he said. 

Most of the bikes will appear at the Berkeley Flea Market, according to Powell. 

Speed is the key for a successful bike thief. Even cheap bolt cutters, available from any hardware store, can make quick work of a chain or cable lock and even some “U”-locks, and they do not take much room to operate.  

”You can use bolt cutters while they are in a duffle bag or even up your sleeve,” says Matt Thomas, manager of Summit Bicycles on Gilman Street.  

It’s easy to steal a bike because “if you’re crouched over a bike, they just assume it’s yours,” he says. 

To handle the more stubborn U-locks, some thieves have abandoned bolt cutters for small car jacks that fit inside the U and wrench the locks apart from the inside out. Check. 

Riders have responded with commercially available steel plates that slide over the U-lock to prevent the jack from fitting inside the space meant for the bicycle. Check mate? Doubtful. 

Senior Samantha Clarendon had the steel-reinforced U-lock on her bike last year when she entered Moffitt Library. When she came out, there was no sign of her bike or the lock. “I was amazed,” she says. 

Even so, Sergeant Powell recommends the reinforced U-locks that should affix the front tire to the back tire and the entire carriage to a solid object.  

He tells of hapless riders locking bikes to removable street signs with predictable outcomes. 

Powell credits licensing and registration, mandatory by law, in helping reduce bike theft and return found bikes to their owners.  

Riders like Thomas, however, feel differently. “They say it deters bike theft, but I don’t believe it,” 

Thomas points out that not all bike theft occurs to stationary bikes.  

He describes “bike checks” where groups, usually made up of kids, stop riders to steal their bikes by crowding them. 

“‘Strong arming’ is also very popular,” he says referring to simply throwing an arm across someone’s chest as he rides in order to knock him off the bike. “Stealing a bike that isn’t locked down is much easier,” he explains.