Tackling bike theft

With bike theft an ever increasing problem, Sergeant Seamus Ryan introduced a novel way to tackle it in Dun Laoghaire.

Bike theft is an ever-increasing problem; nearly 6000 bikes are stolen every year with Dublin remaining the crime capital for the practice with nearly 75 percent of all thefts reported there. In most cases, these bikes are secured by cheap locks, which are easily removed.

The ‘cycle to work’ scheme has contributed to this situation somewhat. There is a limit of €1,000 on the amount that can be spent and you can only avail of the scheme once in a five-year period. This results in many enthusiasts spending right up to the limit and therefore spending far more on a bike than they would normally. Unfortunately, this presents a high value target for criminals.

Criminals who steal bikes are wide and varied and can range from the opportunist who acts on the spur of the moment and takes an unlocked bike. He usually sells them on for a small amount of money. Then there are the more organised individuals who are well equipped and organised. They have vans and effective lock breaking tools at their disposal. They usually sell the bikes on for near market price and usually on line.

The Info Bike is pictured with Sergeant Seamus Ryan; Inspector Tom Condon and Superintendent Martin Fitzgerald.

The Info Bike is pictured with Sergeant Seamus Ryan; Inspector Tom Condon and Superintendent Martin Fitzgerald.

These were the issues faced by the local policing forum in Dun Laoghaire when we considered how to tackle these issues. Garda John Moore and myself used the Professor Herman Goldstein Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) model first proposed in the late 1970s. This model of POP was developed into a practitioner framework which became known as SARA (Eck & Spelman, 1987) and stands for Scanning, Analysis, Response and Assessment.

We examined the crime triangle which looks at the offender, the victim and the location, often referred to as ‘wolf, duck, den’ problems. We analysed the problem and considered numerous responses. What measures would address the location, the victim and the offender in one fell swoop? The answer came in the form of a brightly coloured bike with a message on it for all to see. We examined similar methods used in the United States and the UK and the use of an ‘info bike’ ticked all the boxes.

Similar initiatives have proven successful in the following jurisdictions: London Metropolitan Police – 33% reduction; British Transport Police – 45% reduction and Tulane University Police (US) – 40% reduction.

We painted an ‘end-of-life’ bike and placed a sign on it with information for all to see. One side says, ‘Gardaí monitoring this location’ and the other side asks, ‘Have you securely locked your bike?’ They we locked the bike at an identified hotspot for bike theft.

The bike has been greeted with many puzzled looks from the public but it has been devised taking into consideration the theories and concepts of environmental criminology. The ravenous WOLF is informed the rack is being monitored and will be deterred. The DUCK is educated as to the more secure methods for locking their bikes and is mindful about security issues. The DEN issue is addressed by placing the bike at identified hotspots and should act as a deterrent. The bike attracts a lot of attention, which increases the ‘natural surveillance.’

We designed and built the bike for a small amount contributed by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council. It was introduced in October 2014 and for the first three months of its use, coincided with a reduction of 15% in bike theft compared to the previous three months in the Dun Laoghaire sub-district. Further assessment will be required to determine how much of these reductions can be directly attributed to the introduction of the ‘info bike.’

Additional complimentary measures have also been put in place with the ‘info bike’ to maximise its effect. This includes full use of the town’s CCTV system to ensure hotspots are routinely monitored. Members on beat duty include these hotspots on their rounds with particular emphasis being placed on the racks where the info bike is placed. Plain-clothes members were also occasionally used to monitor hot spots and target known offenders as they entered the targeted locations.

Superintendent Martin Fitzgerald has praised the initiative, which has also led to the identification and arrest of offenders who specialise in this form of crime. Fitzgerald said, “When the members initially pitched me this idea, I must admit I was somewhat sceptical but this collaborative idea between An Garda Síochána and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is certainly turning heads. That is one of the goals of the initiative, to get people talking about bike safety and ultimately create a buzz about it.”

Moore said, “Academic studies have concluded that the effectiveness of this extremely cheap and simple intervention suggests that there can be considerable crime-reduction benefits to engaging the psychology of surveillance, even in the absence of surveillance itself.” 

For full and in-depth coverage, see the current printed edition of Garda Review.

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