Whether or not Philadelphia is actually the country’s worst city for bike theft, we can all agree it’s a problem. A big one. Just last week, we posted a blog showing video of a man in the Bella Vista section of South Philly stealing four bicycles in a single night from one garage on Bainbridge Street. A week earlier, a man was caught on tape stealing a police bike. Nearly 2,000 thefts are reported (key word: reported) each year and the data show that number isn’t slowing down.
It’s actually trending upward. Between 2007-2012, reported bike thefts rose 18%.
In light of that, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has created a special section of our website dedicated to helping you keep your bike safe. Among our recommendations: lock your bike correctly, don’t lock it overnight outside, be aware of bike theft hot spots, record your bike’s serial number, take a picture with your bike and save it—and, if you’re lucky enough to live where a bicycle registration program exists, take advantage of it to register your bike with your local police district. If your bike is stolen, we recommend reporting it to the police, join this Facebook group (Philadelphia Stolen Bikes) to post a notice and monitor Craiglist.
If available, bike registration is easy and the best line of defense againt theft. However, it’s not available on a city-wide basis. Some local police districts and area colleges are already doing it and, well, it works. That’s why, in light of the theft epidemic in Philadelphia, we’re calling for a citywide bicycle registration program which will, in some cases, deter thefts; in others, it’ll make it easier for police to recover a stolen bike—especially if the thief attempts to sell it to a used bike shop or on Craigslist.
The most successful, well-known police bike registry program is in the 17th District, where they work hand-in-hand with the South of South Street Neighborhood Association to register bikes in the Southwest Center City section of Philly. And that’s a part of the City that truly needs one. The City’s data on reported bike thefts from 2007-2012 shows 1342 thefts in the 9th District and 541 in the 17th.
Less well-known is the bike registry program in the 26th District, which includes parts of Fishtown and Kensington. When we spoke to the community relations officer in the 26th District, he noted 14 people registered their bike in that cycling-heavy area in 2013. In 2014, just four total people registered. This, despite the district holding two registration drives throughout the year in the Piazza.
Things are a little different where there’s constant publicity. Like at Temple University. According to BikeTemple, there were 505 students’ bikes registered between August 2014 and December 2014 for the fall semester. And Temple’s registration program has led directly to a series of arrests in North Philly.
Bike registration can work effectively as a first line of defense.
“Our real benefit came with the large reduction in bike thefts on the campus and the public property surrounding the campus,” says Charles J. Leone, the executive director of public safety at Temple University. Temple police have stickers for bikes, which note the bike in question is registered with the campus police.
Leone additionally notes that the campus went a bit further to stop thefts. “We gave out U-Locks to all students and staff registering their bikes with us,” he continues. “Most of our thefts involved the cutting of cable locks. We decided to invest in helping our students better secure their bikes. In comparing 2013 with 2014, we had a 43% decrease in bike thefts.”
Leone adds Temple has been working with the 22nd Police District, which helped the school put together bike theft patterns of high-theft areas.
“This was a multi-pronged approach with registration and education, along with enforcement,” Leone notes. “The 22nd District made this initiative part of their roll call information showing the officers our stickers and explaining the registration process. The Philadelphia Police would contact our communication center or talk with a Temple Police officer on patrol checking our database with a suspicious person with a bike.”
In total, there were three bike theft arrests. Those arrested “were notorious bike thieves responsible for multiple crimes,” according to Leone. As the weather gets better this spring, campus security plans to collaborate with the Philadelphia Police Department, particularly if they see more thefts happening.
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia believes the City needs a city-wide bicycle registry that is made available to all police districts. Such a program would lead to more arrests for this highly-preventable crime and act as a deterrent (especially when the publicity got out to both cyclists and thieves).
Then there’s this other thing: Tonight at 11pm, 6ABC will air a special investigative report on bike thefts in Philadelphia. As part of their research, reporter Wendy Saltzman spoke to Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia Deputy Director Sarah Clark Stuart (see a preview of the report here). Be sure to check it out, and check back on our blog for more information as this issue progresses. And in the meantime, take precautions to make sure bad people don’t ride off with your ride.