Where do all the stolen bikes go?

Police have reports of 200 bike thefts this year and say they don’t expect to be able to return many to their owners

“I got offered a $450 bike for 20 bucks,” said bike mechanic Robin Parsons. “[He wanted] to buy himself two grams of weed.”
“I got offered a $450 bike for 20 bucks,” said bike mechanic Robin Parsons. “[He wanted] to buy himself two grams of weed.”

When Alex McIntyre left for work last month, he didn’t think he’d be walking. He’d locked his $300 bike outside his Barrie St. apartment the night before.

“I had one of those cord locks around it,” the fourth-year Arts and Science student said. “In the morning it was gone and the cord was there, cut in half.”

He’s a victim of one of 200 bike thefts reported to Kingston police so far this year. 40 bike thefts on campus have been reported to Queen’s Campus Security in 2010.

“I called the police about it and they never found anything,” McIntyre said, adding he was able to provide the officers with the bike’s serial number.

“They told me ‘we’ll do what we can but don’t get your hopes up’,” he said. “I still haven’t heard anything and I doubt I will.”

Police say they’re anticipating a surge in stolen bikes reports in the coming weeks. Kingston Police crime analyst Jason Key said the repopulated Queen’s campus is an attractive destination for bike thieves.

“Usually you see the number of cases spike in the first few weeks of September,” he said. “There’s more opportunity on campus ... There’s a higher percentage of people riding bikes so if someone wants to steal a bike that’s where they go.”

Key said bike theft cases get cold quick because most victims aren’t able to provide a serial number. Without it, police can’t verify who a recovered bike belongs to.

“All they usually have is the colour and make,” analyst Jason Key said. “That’s why we have so many hanging around the station.”

There were 392 reported Kingston bike thefts in 2007, 270 in 2008 and 291 last year.

Key said anyone accused of bike theft is rarely charged. If police are equipped with a description and serial number of a stolen bike, they can confiscate it if they find someone with it.

But the person found riding the stolen bike can easily escape a charge.

“The guy who has the bike usually says, ‘I got it from a friend’ and gets off with a warning,” he said.

Key is compiling theft reports to determine the most common places and times bikes are stolen. He said the data will be used internally to ensure police increase patrols around high-risk areas for bike theft. The information will not be released to the public.

“We want to know the peak times and peak locations,” he said. “We analyse this information so we can be effective with what we’re working on. If we were to release it to the public it would go against what we’re trying to do.”

The majority of bike thefts reported to Campus Security occur around the perimeter of campus. Since June 2004, 29 bikes have been stolen from outside Stauffer library; the highest number for any on campus location. During that period there have been a total 399 cases reported on campus.

“People are looking for the easiest access into campus and for the quickest route out,” said David Patterson, Director of Campus Security. “These people coming onto campus are very organized ... They come to campus very quickly and they tend to blend in.”

Security has increased lighting and patroling of the areas they found to have a higher rate of bike theft.

If anyone is spotted loitering around campus bike racks, Campus Security will notify police and tail the suspect until officers arrive.

Patterson said arrests are made after police find incriminating tools, like bolt cutters, on the suspect’s person.

A local bicycle salesperson said numbers from Campus Security and Kingston Police aren’t indicative of the amount of bike theft in the city.

CyclePath sales associate Richard Hulton said he’s expecting to sell several replacement bikes and accessories to students who’ve had their bike stolen in the first half of September.

He said cheaper bikes and easily removable accessories like seats and wheels are frequently stolen, but aren’t reported.

Hulton recommended a u-shaped lock that sells for around $35 at most Kingston bike shops. He said most cable and chain locks can be cut discreetly in a matter of seconds.

“U-Locks are pretty much the only thing thieves don’t get through,” he said, adding most people with a poor quality bike rarely invest in effective theft-prevention methods.

“Regardless of how much the bike costs, you’re still without a bike if it gets stolen,” he said. “I’ve seen junkers go missing; a guy had his unicycle stolen.

“If it’s locked up with a cable lock, they will take anything.”

He said using a u-lock to secure the frame and a cable lock to secure the seat and wheels will deter most thieves.

Hulton said many customers visiting his store to replace lost property made the mistake of locking their bike in a secluded area overnight.

“If you have to have your bike locked up after dark, have it in a well-lit area with a lot of foot traffic,” he said. “Otherwise, it allows them to sit and work on a bike no matter what lock is on it.”

Hulton said students with expensive bikes should be weary of thieves willing to invest over a week to catalogue their schedule in an attempt to find a window of opportunity.

“If you have the same class every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then lock your bike in a different spot every day,” he said. “If someone knows your bike is in a certain spot for three hours then they can target you.”

Robin Parsons works as a bike mechanic at Yellow Bike Action, a local non-profit bike shop. He’s a homeless man who’s lived in Kingston shelters.

He said the bike thieves he’s encountered during his 10 years in Kingston use the stolen property for personal gain.

“In the shelter I got offered a $450 bike for 20 bucks,” Parsons said. “The guy who was trying to sell it to me wanted to go buy himself two grams of weed.”

Parsons said the thieves he’s met aren’t usually looking for high-calibre equipment.

“The thieves are stealing the bicycles to get from point A to point B and when they get to point B they abandon them,” he said. “Some of them will steal a cheaper looking bicycle simply because they figure the police won’t stop them.”

Greg Birtch, owner of BB’s Cycle on Division St., buys and refurbishes used bikes.

“Who in their right mind running a business would buy a stolen bike?” he said.

A sign on the door to his shop notifies all would-be used bike salespeople that photo identification is needed to conduct business inside.

He said anyone trying to unload stolen bikes is easy to spot.

“I had a couple in here about a month ago and they were both just wired,” Birtch said, adding that the man and woman were looking to sell a used bike in decent shape.

“As soon as I asked them to show photo I.D they started backpeddling.”

Birtch said he’ll suspect a bike is stolen if the person selling it isn’t concerned in a fair deal.

“If somebody is going to bring a brand new bike in and ask for $15 then it’s stolen,” he said. “They’re just looking to unload it.”

Police hold recovered bicycles in a storage facility for around a year. An owner needs to provide a serial number or distinguishing feature on the bike to reclaim their property. All unclaimed bikes are sold off at auction with proceeds benefitting the Boys and Girls Club of Kingston.

Crime Prevention Officer Mike Menor said the storage room is usually filled with around 100 bikes, with that number doubling in the summer months.

“I’ve seen bikes stacked two or three on top of each other.”

He said Birtch’s practice of requiring identification is standard amongst used bike dealers.

“I think the days of people pawning stolen bikes are gone,” Menor said.

Bike thefts can be reported to Kingston Police at 613-549-4660.

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