Bike theft shouldn’t be overlooked

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the eighth of my opinion columns, Bike theft shouldn’t be overlooked, originally published October 6, 2006.

I don’t have much to add in terms of commentary on this column. It was one of the worst in terms of choice of subject matter that I wrote. I just couldn’t come up with anything better that week. There weren’t any good campus news stories to go off of.

Tuesday’s Diamondback article, “Students put bikes inside, avoid theft,” detailed the vastly increased bike theft rate on the campus. Just last month, 58 bikes were reported stolen, three times more than in the same month last year. College Park is in the middle of a crime wave that is seemingly only getting worse, consisting of a lot more than just an increase in the number of high-publicity armed robberies.

Most bikes are stolen from a relatively small number of locations on the campus, including the bike racks outside of McKeldin Library, the Stamp Student Union and the engineering, chemistry and physics buildings. I can verify that McKeldin Library is a target for bike theft because my sister’s friend lost a really nice (and presumably expensive) mountain bike there earlier this week. The problem is that we have a handful of locations on the campus that are routinely targeted by criminals because of lax enforcement.

One of the bad aspects of crime (besides the obvious, like people getting killed) is that some crime breeds more crime. Once an area has a general reputation for being unsafe or providing easy targets, word gets out and the area becomes even more attractive to criminals. Thieves are regularly coming onto the campus to steal students’ and faculty members’ bicycles. And while they’re here, because they’re already disposed to stealing from people, who knows what else they’re up to? They’re definitely more dangerous than the average person on the campus. They’re also more likely to carry weapons.

It is in the interest of everyone at the university to squash this rising trend of bicycle theft. We need to make this campus safe, and the only way to do that is by attempting to stop all crime. Unfortunately, it’s going to cost money, but what anticrime measures don’t? In the long run, the improved reputation for safety will more than repay the costs of fighting crime.

The university has been compiling data on bicycle theft for a long time. The high-theft areas have been identified. All we have to do now is step up surveillance and enforcement. Each of the large, oft-targeted bike racks needs to have a high-resolution security camera nearby. After each bike theft is reported, the police should go through the videos, identify the person on tape who stole the bike and write a description of the suspect (it’s unlikely they’d be able to get a name just from the picture alone).

Then, by looking at pictures and descriptions of suspects in bike thefts over the course of months, the police can identify repeat offenders. They would provide pictures and descriptions to their officers, who would keep their eyes open, especially near bike racks. The final step is identifying patterns for when bikes are stolen and having undercover officers on the scene during high-theft times, ready to arrest the habitual thieves they have identified from video surveillance.

Right now we don’t know if we’re dealing with one persistent thief, an organized ring or any combination of the two. We need more information about the thieves – are they loading stolen bikes into vehicles or just riding them away? It’s monetarily infeasible to install a plethora of live feeds and pay people to watch them to try to catch bike thieves in the act, but it’s simple enough to set up cameras and go back through tapes to identify suspects after a theft has been reported.

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