jueves, 20 de junio de 2013

Who'll Stop the Bike Thieves?

Pedaling against bike theft.
This group of Bogotá cyclists rode across town the other day calling for action against bike theft - but I didn't hear any concrete ideas to combat the problem.

Like many big cities, bikes get stolen all the time in Bogotá. I once left a bike locked up on a main plaza, went to a meeting and returned a half hour later to find it gone. When I complained to the police station two blocks away, the cops were only interested in praising the local thieves' abilities. "Thieves here will steal a hole out of the ground," one informed me.

Stolen? Bikes outside a central Bogotá pawn shop.
Teams of thieves also work La Ciclovia, spotting valuable bikes and using tricks or threats to separate them from their owners. "Can I try your bike out," says a friendly young man in cycling gear, with his own nice bike. And he does, and that's the last you see of yours.

A trick like that happened to an Australian friend of mine, who was riding home on his fancy new bike. A three-man team of thieves jumped him and left him bike-less. Insurance replaced that bike, but a month later he stopped when a fellow cyclist asked for help with a mechanical problem. The Australian put down his bike to assist - only to have it nabbed by a waiting thief, while the guy with the supposedly damaged bike rode off as well. Now, he's riding the bus.

There is one effective common sense measure - disguise an expensive bike as a cheap one. It'll pedal just as well, but won't attract criminal eyes.

One kid who worked with Bogotá Bike Tours was delivering a bike on La Ciclovia when another rider blocked him while a second pulled him off of his (our) bicycle. The bike - the best one we had - disappeared down a side street.

Those bikes, I suspect, quickly end up in Medellin or some other city where nobody's likely to recognize them.

Good ideas to control theft do exist, but the police here don't use them. Professional bands of thieves steal a lot of the bikes, so catching just a few of them could really reduce the problem. Why not try sting operations, with vulnerable-appearing riders on nice bikes equipped with hidden GPS devices. Trace the bike to wherever they hide or fence it, and recover a bunch of bikes and catch the band of thieves.

But police have told me they just don't or can't do sting operations.

Instead, the police have carried out what amounts to pointless harassment, by stopping cyclists on
Fighting crime or cyclists? Police take away racing bicycles
because the riders weren't carrying proof of ownership.
(Photo: Juan Carlos Zabala Humanez)
training rides and demanding they prove ownership of their bikes - and confisticating the bikes if they lack property papers. How many people carry around their bicycles' papers? And, bicycle property cards are widely faked.

"Oh, Colombia, where will end up with these injustices by those in power?" asks Juan Carlos Zabala Humanez, who posted this photo of police confisticating a bike during a training ride.

Finally, everybody knows where many stolen bikes end up - in the pawn shops, called compraventas, and a few other places offering nice bikes at absurdly low prices. A few years ago, one of our bikes got stolen from the doorway of Bogotá Bike Tours. I rode down Calle 13 and spotted it, still outside the shop where the thief had sold it. With lots of anger and threats of calling the cops, we obliged the shopowner to give back the bike. "I guess that's why the fellow wanted to sell it so fast," observed another man standing in the shop's door.

The best - and only - good idea I've seen recently is the Biciregistro web page, where you can list your stolen bike and used bicycle shoppers can check to see whether a bike is clean. But it will require participation.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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