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The problem of bike theft (part 3)

In considering the problem of bike theft in British Columbia, it is worth examining legislation in other provinces.

Here, for example, is Section 151 of the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act:

Defacing identification marks on bicycles prohibited
151(1) No person shall deface, obliterate, alter, or render illegible the manufacturer’s serial identification number or a municipality’s identification mark or number on any bicycle.

Prohibition of sale of bicycles bearing identification defaced
151(2) No person shall buy or sell a bicycle on which any such mark or number has been defaced, obliterated, altered or rendered illegible, or which has not clearly and legibly stamped thereon at least the manufacturer’s number or a municipality’s mark and number.

Impoundment of bicycles having defaced identification marks
151(3) Any peace officer who, anywhere in the province, finds a bicycle without either the manufacturer’s number or a municipality’s identification mark and number plainly stamped thereon, or on which any such mark or number has been defaced, obliterated, altered, or rendered illegible, shall seize the bicycle and bring it before a justice who shall thereupon issue a summons addressed to the person in whose apparent possession the bicycle was at the time of seizure commanding him, at the time and place therein named, to show cause why it should not be confiscated.

The serial number is a big deal because it uniquely identifies a bicycle. Let’s face it, there is only one reason to obscure the serial number: To hide the origin of a stolen bike. This legislation in Manitoba allows police to seize bicycles with altered or removed serial numbers.  It doesn’t necessarily affect the number of bikes stolen, but it likely increases their recovery rate. That is a big deal.

There is no equivalent legislation in BC. Quebec has something similar – the Bicycle Ownership Act.  An interesting aspect of the Bicycle Ownership Act is that it requires used bike stores to maintain a register of sales:

Register and contents thereof.
3. Any person who carries on the business of used bicycles or cycles shall enter in a register specially kept for this purpose every purchase, exchange, sale or other transaction relating to used bicycles or cycles or to parts thereof and particularly, inscribe therein, the following information:

(a) a description of the object of the transaction;

(b) the serial number and any other identification mark appearing thereon;

(c) the date of the transaction;

(d) the name and the address of the person with whom the transaction is made.

4. A peace officer may, at any reasonable time, enter any establishment where the trade or the storing of used bicycles or cycles is carried on and visit the premises to inspect the bicycles and cycles found therein. He may also require that the register prescribed by section 3 be furnished to him.

Also, in Nova Scotia, Section 50 of the Motor Vehicle Act states that “No person shall deface, destroy or alter the serial or identification number of a bicycle.”

That’s it. I haven’t been able to find any other provincial legislation in Canada aimed at bicycle theft.

Deadline for comment on draft BC Policing Plan

The deadline for feedback on the draft of the BC Policing and Community Safety Plan has just been announced. Comments will be accepted until August 31st, 2013.

On how we perceive good and evil…

This quote is from a book I am reading called The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Perilous Journey:

“Excuse me Mr. Benedict, but how can it possibly be a blessing to know that people are untrustworthy?”

Mr. Benedict looked at Reynie askance.  “Rather than answer that, allow me to call attention to the assumption you’re making – the assumption that most people are untrustworthy. Have you considered the possibility, Reynie, that wickedness is simply more noticeable than goodness?  That wickedness stands out, as it were?”

Perhaps this is something for police officers to keep in mind. When you work in law enforcement, it’s easy to begin thinking that no one is trustworthy.

The problem of bike theft (part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I explained that yes, British Columbia has a problem with bicycle theft. The problem is not limited to Vancouver. For example, here is a video of an alleged theft in Kelowna from 2011:

Here are my gut feelings on this issue:

1) In any given year in BC, more bicycles are stolen than vehicles.

2) These stolen bicycles are used to commit numerous other offences (they are crime enablers).

3) The recovery rate for stolen bicycles is less than for stolen vehicles.

4) Of the bicycles recovered by police, few are returned to their owners.

5) The total value of the non-recovered stolen bicycles exceeds that of the non-recovered stolen vehicles.

It is difficult to determine whether my gut feelings are correct. Changes to the UCR2 reporting survey in 2009 mean that police agencies no longer report bicycle theft to Statistics Canada as a separate sub-category. Instead it is reported in the category of Theft Over or Theft Under $5000, depending on the value of the bicycle. Auto theft still gets its own category, and so does the relatively new crime of Altering / Removing / Destroying VIN. (VIN stands for Vehicle Identification Number.)

People who know me will laugh to hear me say this… but this is a very car-centric way of looking at transportation-related crime. Here, for example, is a link to the monthly crime stats released by the Vancouver Police Department for June 2013. You can see that 89 vehicles were reported stolen in that month. But there is no way to determine how many bicycles were stolen. In order to put together a province-wide picture of bike theft, we basically need to puzzle together random media releases and/or crime reports from all the police departments in BC. This makes it difficult for a researcher to understand the scope of the problem across the entire province.

Two approaches have been used so far in BC: Community-based theft prevention initiatives, and targeted enforcement. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. Bait bikes, for example, suffered a minor legal setback in Vancouver a few years ago. Now the RCMP is trying a new bait bike program along the Sea-to-Sky corridor.

Both of these approaches (prevention initiatives and targeted enforcement) are important. However, property crime overall is trending downwards, yet bicycle theft seems to be increasing. This is a big deal. It points to the need for a new approach.

It is a fact that legislation has not been used in this province to tackle the issue of bike theft. I will look at that in Part 3 of this series.

The problem of bike theft (part 1)

Bicycle theft is an under-addressed crime problem in British Columbia. In Vancouver, for example, bike theft is up fifty percent over the past five years:

Vancouver has significantly higher rates of bike theft per capita than other major Canadian cities. One explanation is what VPD spokesman Sergeant Randy Fincham calls an unfortunate “combination of supply and demand,” pointing to the mild coastal weather and bike-friendly government initiatives and infrastructure on one side of the equation, and a property crime problem largely driven by the illicit drug market on the other.

Bikes are also more expensive these days which makes them an attractive target. Prices for a bicycle range from $500 to $5000. Bikes at the high end of that range are more expensive than my own personal vehicle.

On July 16, 2013, this photo was posted to the News 1130 facebook page by Derek Hession. The bike was stolen out of his backyard in Surrey.

On July 16, 2013, Derek Hession posted this photo to the News 1130 facebook page. He reports the bike stolen out of his backyard in Surrey the night before.

There is no indication that the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia has ever turned its collective wisdom toward this problem. I’ve searched Hansard for the phrases like “stolen bike”, “theft of bike”, “bike theft”, “stolen bicycle”, “bicycle crime” etc. There are zero search results for those specific phrases. The BC Ministry of Justice web site is really not that much better in terms of  search results. That said, it should be noted that the Ministry of Justice recently provided a $9150 grant in civil forfeiture funds to create a bicycle theft prevention video:

“HUB will create a short video and promotional campaign on the many ways community members can help prevent theft of their own and others’ bikes. The video will be distributed through cycling networks and broader media networks to get maximum impact and community involvement. The creation of the video is supported by the Vancouver Police Department, the Vancouver Board of Education and the City of Vancouver.”

The video sounds like a good project. But something more substantial needs to be done. In the past decade, there has been a lot of talk (and action) focused on auto crime. Bike crime, not so much.