Bike thefts continue to plague campus

By Alex Park

Do you own a bike on campus? Then lock it up, take down the model and serial number and put your name on it somehow, said Terry Gorman, Assistant Director of Facilities Management, because otherwise, you might not see it again.According to police, college campuses are “target rich environments,” and few places in St. Paul are showing the kind of wealth for thefts that Macalester is this year, Gorman says. Between the middle of August and the beginning of October, 14 bikes were reported stolen off campus racks, including 12 in September alone, an unusually high number for a college of this size, and one not seen here for years. They have been stolen from racks outside Doty, Turck, the Stadium, even right in front of the Campus Center. Whoever is orchestrating the thefts, he, she, or the group they are a part of, is being very methodical about it, Gorman said.

Two years ago, St. Thomas experienced a similar string of bike thefts. A chance surveillance video clip there caught a faceless perpetrator in the act stealing a bike in a matter of seconds by bending down over the chain, as if to unlock it, then dropping a bolt cutter from his sleeve, severing the chain and riding away. If not for the image of the chain left on the ground after the theft, it would have been unclear from the footage that the bike was stolen at all. Gorman says a thief with a similar method may be stalking the Macalester campus. Even so, security has had trouble coping.

This year, at least one, but no more than two security guards cover the evening shift at any given time. One shift begins at 6 p.m. and ends at 2 a.m.; the other is between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m.

“We’ve asked officers to do some more watching,” Gorman says. But with so many racks to choose from, a thief who sees a security guard lurking in the dark would have little incentive not to move somewhere else.

Outdoor security cameras are also out of the question. Though the technology is improving, positioning them to get a clear picture of the racks is still difficult, not to mention the lighting problem. Even if a camera did get a picture of the thief in action, the chances are that the image would be of nothing more than that of a faceless person discreetly cutting a chain and getting away, as was the case at St. Thomas two years ago.

Instead, Gorman recommends that students take measures to prevent their bikes from being stolen and allow for a quick recovery in the event of a theft. One way to do this is to drop a business card, or some kind of contact information down the bike stem, the tube that holds up the seat. This will allow for you to prove ownership if your bike shows up at the St. Paul Police’s bike impound lot.

In addition, he says, students should keep a record of their bike’s model and serial number. Reporting this information to police wil allow them to match it with a national database of recovered stolen goods, in case the bike appears in an impound lot anywhere in the country.

As the unusual string of thefts continues, no bike owners should consider themselves immune.

Most of the ones stolen so far have been of the less expensive variety, Gorman said. “It’s not just the expensive bikes; it’s all bikes.