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Bikes gone missing

There have been 69 reported bike thefts since the beginning of the fall semester, according to University Police. ORACLE PHOTO/JACKIE BENITEZ

On large university campuses like USF, where a large portion of the student population choose to use bicycles to travel around campus, bike theft is a recurring issue. 

In 2007, the rate of bike thefts on campus led members of Student Government to team up with SAFE Team to stake out bike racks. In 2010, the number of personal property thefts reported was 321, and by 2012 that number dropped slightly to 289.

Now, five years later, bike theft is still a hot topic for students, with 69 bikes reported stolen since the fall semester started. Of the 69, only five cases have been solved.

Samantha Herring, a sophomore majoring in chemical engineering, left for Germany this past summer with a USF study abroad program. When she returned, she found her U-bolt lock cut and bike missing. 

Although Herring’s bike was registered with University Police (UP), when it came up missing she decided not to report it.

“It just seemed like a lot of hassle to be honest,” Herring said. “They ask you all these questions. They ask you why you left it there in the first place.”

Many students felt that despite the continued issue of bike theft, the university was already doing all it could to help prevent it.

Hannah Bennett graduated in fall of 2016 and currently works on campus. She remembers the time her friend’s bike was stolen from his second-story balcony.

“I had a friend who lived on 50th Street who had his bike on his back balcony on the second floor and someone stood on trash cans to steal the bike,” Bennett said. “So, I can’t even think of what you would do to deter that because it was already on the second floor, but they were pretty determined anyway.”

One technique being implemented on college campuses, including USF, to cut down on bike theft is bait-bikes, according to UP Public Information Officer Renna Reddick. Bait-bikes are bikes placed around campus that are locked like any other student bike, but made to be the easiest target and are equipped with GPS. 

They are scattered around campus and used to discourage bike heists while also helping to track and catch the thieves.

The success of these programs has varied. According to a 2013 USA Today article, North Carolina State University and Winthrop University saw much success, with N.C. State cutting its bike thefts in half and Winthrop University cutting its rates by 75 percent. 

At USF, bait-bikes have been in use for approximately two years and have led to one arrest, according to UP records.

William Cabral, a senior majoring in international studies, heard about the bait-bike programs and was surprised by the success they had shown at other universities.

“I think it’s a great strategy,” Cabral said. “I think it’s definitely the way to go. I haven’t heard too much theft and things going on lately, but there was a point when I was going to campus and I’d just see bikes left and right missing tires.”

According to Reddick, UP recommends students use a high-quality U-lock, locking the frame and one wheel to a secure, fixed object.

Reddick also advised students to lock their bikes in well-lit and well-traveled areas, and to also register their bikes.

Students can register their property online or in-person for free using USF’s property registration app as part of USF’s Bicycle Anti-Theft decal program.

Students are also encouraged to always report a theft, even if their property was not registered. Students can contact UP.