Understanding Your Local Problem
The information provided above is only a generalized
description of bicycle theft. You must combine the basic facts with a more
specific understanding of your local problem. To enable you to design an
effective response, you will likely need to analyze local data carefully.
Your local bicycle theft problem can take many forms, and
you will need to determine the specific nature of the problem to produce an
effective response. It may be limited to, or a combination of, thefts from in
or around victims' homes; thefts from public spaces; or thefts from particular areas
such as university campuses or transit hubs.
Knowledge of the location, facilities available, and types
of bicycles stolen will aid in identifying conditions that might contribute to
the problem. Clues as to how thieves steal bikes may be apparent from locks
found at the scene of thefts, CCTV footage, and related offenses.
This knowledge can also help you identify who is committing
the offenses, and why. For example, where the quantity of stolen cycles
recovered is high, a high proportion of offenders are probably joyriders.
Preventive efforts for such offenders will differ from those for offenders who sell
bicycles on (acquisitive/volume offenders). Such analyses may be possible only if
you systematically collect data (for example, it may be necessary to
distinguish between burglaries in which bicycles are stolen and those in which
they are not). Ensuring the systematic recording of bicycle thefts will allow
for better analysis and subsequently better targeted responses to your local
problem. Alternatively, you may need to collect or identify new data sources.
For example, alongside observational research, consulting with bicycle theft victims
may help to reveal specific problems that you would not otherwise identify.
In addition to criminal justice agencies, the following
groups have an interest in the bicycle theft problem and should be considered
for the contribution they might make to gathering information about the problem
and responding to it:
- elected and appointed local government officials,
- community planning organizations,
- traffic engineering departments,
- street–furniture designers,
- bicycle clubs and networks (including bicycle theft victims),
- bicycle and bicycle-part retailers,
- insurance companies,
- large employers,
- transport providers, and
- large educational establishments.
Asking the Right Questions
The following are some critical questions you should ask
when analyzing your particular bicycle theft problem, even if the answers are
not always readily available. Your answers to these and other questions will
help you define your local problem and choose the most appropriate set of
responses later on.
The Nature of Bicycle Theft
- Are bicycle theft data recorded in a way that aids analysis of
your local problem?
- What are the type and quality of locks being used?
- Are bicycles locked when stolen? If so, how?
- Does locking practice vary by location (e.g., at home and public
- To what are bicycles locked? Are bicycles stolen from residential
locations secured to anything at all?
- What happens to bicycles once they are stolen? Are they sold
illegally? If so, who is buying them? Are they stripped for parts? Are they
- What perpetrator techniques are common? Do they differ across
- What current preventive measures are ineffective? (See "Measuring
Your Effectiveness" below).
- How soon are recovered bicycles found?
- How damaged are recovered bicycles?
- How many bicycle thefts are unreported, and why?
- How concerned is the local community about stolen bicycles?
- What types of bicycles are thieves stealing (a standard typology
such as the one below may help in answering this)?
Locations and Times
- Where is your local bicycle theft problem located? In the victims'
homes? Workplaces? Certain streets? On-street vs. off-street parking? Risky
facilities? General hot spots (such as downtown areas)?
- Where hot spots are identified, why are these locations at high
risk of bicycle theft? Lack of secure parking? High levels of flyparking? A
lack of capable guardians informed and empowered to act?
- Which places in particularly risky areas are at the greatest
risk? On a university campus, for example, is it the gym? Library? Dormitories?
Particular classroom buildings?
- How prevalent is flyparking at different locations? Are parking
facilities sufficient for cyclist demand? Are parking facilities located in the
- What types of houses or apartment buildings do thieves target for
bicycle theft? Detached or row homes? One-story, or two-story? Large or small
apartment buildings? (Visual surveys of victimized houses and apartments will
help you answer these and other questions.)††
- Do theft rates vary across cycle-parking facilities? If so, how,
and what factors might contribute?
- Which groups are the principal users of the facilities? Workers?
Shoppers? Young people? Students?
- Is lack of natural surveillance (guardianship) a factor?
- Where are recovered bicycles found?
- When do thefts mainly occur (time of day, day of week, month)?
- Are there local seasonal variations in bicycle theft?
- What kinds of offenders are involved? Joyriders? Acquisitive/drug addicts? Professionals?
- What do you know about the offenders? Are they local?
- Do offenders tend to work alone? Does this differ by offender category?
- Do bike thieves know their victims?
- Do bike thieves operate in the same location?
- Are stolen bicycles being sold in your local area?
- Whom does bicycle theft harm (e.g., cyclists, business owners)?
- What is known about bicycle theft victims (e.g., their routine
activities, demographics, cycle use, prior victimization)? What forums are
available to glean this information and engage with victims?
- What form of transportation do victims use after thieves steal their
bicycles? Do they buy a new bicycle? Use a different form of transportation?
- Does victimization change a victim's cycle-related behavior?
Locking practice? Parking location?
- Do cyclists see publicity regarding secure cycle practice? If so,
where? Do they think current publicity is useful?
- Under what circumstances do thefts occur? Is victim behavior a
contributory factor, such as leaving bicycles unsecured and visible/accessible?
- What types of bicycle-parking facilities are available? Are they
- Is there an active bicycle registration scheme? What percentage
of reported stolen bicycles are registered?
- Is anything being done about abandoned bicycles (the "broken bike
- Is anything being done about flyparked bicycles?
- What proportion of stolen bicycles are recovered?
- What proportion of recovered bicycles are returned to their
- What proportion of offenses result in an arrest?
- What are the typical legal consequences for convicted bicycle
Measuring Your Effectiveness
Measurement allows you to determine to what degree your
efforts have succeeded, and suggests how you might modify your responses if
they are not producing the intended results. You should take measures of your
problem before you implement responses, to determine how serious the
problem is, and after you implement them, to determine whether they have
been effective. All measures should be taken in both the target area and the
surrounding area to provide you with control data against which to compare your
intervention data. For more detailed guidance on measuring effectiveness, see
the Problem-Solving Tools guide, Assessing Responses to Problems: An
Introductory Guide for Police Problem-Solvers.
The types of measures considered will depend on the particular
problem to be tackled and the type of intervention to be implemented. For
example, if part of the aim of an intervention is to change cyclists' locking
practices, then in addition to measuring what was implemented (process
measures) and any changes in bike theft rates (outcome measures), a useful
intermediate measure would be the degree to which cyclists' locking practices
have changed as a result of intervention. If the locking practices do not
change over time, then you cannot attribute any reduction in crime observed to
locking practices. Only by measuring changes in this type of behavior would you
be able to come to such conclusions and understand what it was that led to the
To measure potential success, you should establish the
- What was implemented?
- Where was it implemented?
- When was it implemented, and with what intensity (e.g., how many
stands were installed, or how many bicycles registered with a registration
- Which stakeholders were involved in implementation? Did they
achieve their specified objectives?
- If publicity was used (e.g., to encourage cyclists to lock their
bikes more securely), then how was the information communicated (e.g., posters,
news articles, radio broadcasts)? How widely was it distributed?
Intermediate Outcome Measures
- Increased use of bike-parking facilities.
- Degree to which any publicity used reached the target audience
(e.g., measured by a cyclist survey relating to the implemented response).
- Improvements in cyclists' locking practices.
- Reductions in flyparking.
- Reductions in the number of unoccupied stands in public places.
- Reductions in the number of abandoned bikes found in parking
- Reductions in the number of calls to remove damaged or abandoned
- Reductions in the number of damaged, abandoned locks.
- Increased reporting of thefts to police (if bicycle theft is
- Changes in perpetrator techniques.
- Some types of intervention may encourage cycle retailers to
report useful information, and so you should consider changes in information
flow when relevant. Although there may be no legal duty for retailers to
contact the police about damaged or stolen cycles, they may be able to provide
a rich source of data concerning your local problem, including who is stealing
the bicycles or why they may be targeting particular types of bike.
Ultimate Outcome Measures
- Reduced theft reports to police.
- Reduced theft reports to place managers (e.g., university
officials or apartment managers).
- More favorable perceptions of safety/security among bike users.
- Reductions in repeat victimization.
- Increases in the number of bicycles recovered.
- Increases in the number of recovered bicycles that are returned
to their rightful owners.
- Increases or reductions in the number of bicycles stolen in
nearby areas. (Bicycle theft may be displaced, causing a rise in nearby areas
or facilities or, conversely, a diffusion of benefits may occur, whereby
bicycle theft is reduced in surrounding areas or facilities).
- Improvements in victim perception of police handling of bicycle
theft (measured by victim surveys in
relation to implemented responses).
- Reduced value of reported stolen bicycles (which might indicate
that more-valuable bicycles are being better protected).
One potential problem with using crimes reported to the
police as a measure of the effectiveness of interventions concerns the
underreporting discussed earlier. For example, it is possible that following
police intervention or a publicity campaign, victims will be more likely to
report crimes to the police. On the one hand, this is a good thing and will
facilitate a better understanding of the crime problem. On the other, it may
create the illusion that bicycle theft has increased, when the reality may be
that it has not (it may even have decreased). Instead, the intervention
activity has led to an increase in victims' willingness and likelihood to report
crimes to the police. Two ways of examining this issue are as follows:
- Ask victims who report bicycle theft if they are aware of any
interventions. If they are, ask if they would have reported the crime if they
had not been. While imperfect, this approach may provide some indication of the
extent to which an intervention has influenced reporting levels.
- Try to identify potential parallel reporting measures. For
example, for some time before intervention (to establish a baseline reporting
rate), it may be possible to conduct surveys in local bicycle shops to find out
how frequently customers have mentioned that their bicycles (or cycle
components) have been stolen. If you ask bicycle shop staff to record such
information, then you may persuade them to keep details of reports made. Such
an exercise may be beneficial for reasons other than the evaluation of
interventions. For instance, it may provide useful intelligence on related
criminal activity and, by demonstrating that police consider bike theft an
important issue, enhance community relations.