From Tuesday’s Philadelphia Daily News:
Cops in Center City are trying an unusual approach to thwarting bike thieves: They’re letting them steal bikes. Undercover cops… set up stings – like the one Aug. 15 observed by the Daily News – leaving an unlocked “bait bike” out somewhere and then waiting for someone to take it.
They’ve logged more than a dozen arrests this way this year for a pesky quality-of-life crime that historically has had low arrest rates.
It’s great that a local paper devoted time and space to bicycle theft in Philly, where riders have been making slow but steady progress in forcing drivers to share the roads with them. Too bad the reporter didn’t mention some of the reasons why bike theft is so rampant.
Start with the fact that city government and private businesses have done a lousy job of creating parking space for the growing number of riders in Center City and other popular biking areas. Some racks and corrals have been installed, and some poles fitted with metal rings, but finding a safe outdoor spot to lock up can still be a challenge. It’s not uncommon to see a bunch of bikes mashed together and somehow locked to the same pole.
Also, cops rarely put much effort into trying to catch bike thieves, despite the crude entrapment strategy described in the Daily News story. I had more than a half-dozen good bikes stolen in Philly over the past ten years and reported each theft. The cops who responded to my complaints shrugged then off, and in some cases laughed in my face.
The Daily News reporter called bike theft “a pesky quality-of-life crime,” an expression that both hints at police indifference and points to a big contradiction in the story. Is pesky the right word, given that “11,000 bicycles were reported stolen from 2007 through 2012 in Philly”? Bikes are as important to cyclists as cars are to drivers, but would the Daily News describe the theft of a gas-guzzling Hummer as pesky? And what if the bike owner catches up with the thief and someone gets his head bashed in? Still a pesky crime?
Give the Daily News credit for calling attention to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and StolenBicycleRegistry.com and the Facebook page called Philadelphia Stolen Bikes. Otherwise, the story was mostly a puff piece for the Philly police.
Footnote: Philly might have more bike commuters per capita than any other major city in America, so it’s nice to know city officials are at least working with the Bicycle Coalition to install more racks.