Though Liza Young ’06 knew bicycle theft was a problem in New Haven, she hardly expected what happened to her this past summer.
Using a combination lock, Young had secured her bicycle to a chain-link fence on Lynwood Place one Friday evening only to return on Monday morning to find it missing. When she reported the crime, University Police advised her to keep her bicycle indoors as much as possible, and after purchasing a replacement bicycle from Wal-Mart only a few days after the theft, she immediately placed it in the foyer of her summer residence. But that night, someone broke into her home and took her and her roommate’s bicycles, neglecting the more valuable DVD player and video game systems steps away in the living room.
“I hadn’t even ridden it, and it got stolen,” Young said. “I had had two bikes stolen within one week.”
Not only is bike theft a common crime on campus, but when they are unable to steal entire bicycles, thieves also tend to remove seats, wheels and other parts, leaving lonely skeletons as ubiquitous reminders of crime’s presence in New Haven.
Jay Sulek ’07, a transfer student who had his bicycle stolen earlier this semester in front of McClellan Hall, said he thought that frequent bicycle theft at least partly reinforces New Haven’s reputation as a dangerous city.
“I think it probably makes me more suspicious about the New Haven area in general,” Sulek said. “I thought that the general area around Yale would be safer than I think it is, and I’m surprised how much [crime] does occur on the actual Yale campus.”
Lt. Michael Patten of the Yale Police said 43 bicycle thefts have been reported to the department thus far in 2004. Fifty-three bicycle thefts were reported in 2003, 49 of which had been reported before December of last year. Despite stories like Young’s, University data does not show bicycle theft as a growing problem on campus.
But Patten acknowledged that the data is incomplete because some thefts are reported only to the New Haven Police Department. Furthermore, some students who have had bicycles stolen said they opted not to report the crime at all, and those who did report their missing bikes said they had low expectations of police.
“I just reported it so that they had another statistic to keep in mind,” said Pansy Tsang ’06, who had her bicycle stolen near the Medical School this past summer.
Robert Jacobson, owner of College Street Cycles, formerly Baybrook Bicycles, said bicycles constitute the most frequently stolen group of items in New Haven. Wheels, seats and other parts held in place by easily manipulated quick release levers also suffer from exceptional vulnerability to theft, he said.
Jacobson speculated bicycles, along with laptops and cars, are consistently targeted because stealing them requires little skill. Patten said bicycle thieves generally do not invest much time in deciding when and where they are going to steal.
“They’re simply opportunists. They take whatever is there,” he said.
Based on reports received by University Police, thieves most common methods are lifting bicycles over parking meters and street signs to which they are secured, cutting bicycle cable locks with bolt cutters, and taking advantage of bicycles that have been locked improperly, Patten said.
Based on personal observation, Jacobson said he thinks few thefts are committed by Yalies against fellow students. He believes one reason bicycle theft persists as a problem in and around campus is that police officers do not possess the experience necessary to discriminate between bicycles that are legitimately owned and those that are not. Jacobson, though, said his expertise enables him to more easily identify stolen bikes.
“I can tell because — I see the kid riding it and it’s not his size or you compare what he’s wearing to the bike that he’s riding, and it’s obvious that his parents didn’t buy him the bike,” he said. “It’s profiling in a way, but it’s painfully obvious to the trained eye.”
Tsang said she believes expensive bicycles are more prone to be stolen, and while her previous bicycle was a relatively costly Mongoose, she made a point to replace it with a cheaper, much less attractive Huffy.
“It has bright pink and bright blue and these girly designs on it. It’s pretty ugly,” she said. “I don’t want to attract people to steal my bike.”
Any bicycle can be targeted, regardless of cost, Jacobson said. He maintained the best way to combat bicycle theft is for owners to use appropriate locks. He recommended a U-Lock for the frame and front wheel and then secondary cable locks to secure individual parts of a bicycle.
He said that while customers come into his store because of theft almost everyday, he still sees bicycle theft as a problem that must be remedied.
“It obviously helps my business, but it’s not what I’m in it for,” he said. “We sell everything to prevent theft, and we suggest it to everybody — If they do what we tell them, 95 percent of the time, they’re fine.”
Tsang agreed that prevention is much less frustrating than having to replace an entire bicycle or even individual parts, as she learned when the seat from her first bicycle was stolen two years ago.
“I went to Baybrook Bicycles and asked them how much it would cost to replace the seat, and they said $60,” she said. “But my bike only cost $60.”