Bike theft on the rise again, say Toronto cyclists
Nadia Hosseinzadeh's bike was stolen downtown just hours after she bought it. (Vince Talotta/The Toronto Star)
When she walked into a bike shop earlier this month, Nadia Hosseinzadeh’s eyes were drawn to a shiny blue Schwinn mountain bike and its handy front basket.
But less than four hours later, her flashy new ride caught the attention of a thief, who promptly cut her cable lock and stole the $300 bike.
“I never thought this would happen, especially so soon after I got it,” said the University of Toronto student, who had locked the bike up outside her gym at Isabella and Yonge Sts.
Hosseinzadeh, 24, is one of approximately 2,000 Torontonians to report a stolen bike in 2011. That number will undoubtedly grow before year’s end, particularly as students pedal back to campus — a hot spot for bike thievery.
Despite a predicted decline in bike theft after the 2008 arrest of Toronto’s Igor Kenk — dubbed the “world’s most prolific bike thief” by The Guardian — many people in the cycling community say theft is as big a problem as ever.
“It declined briefly after (Kenk) was incarcerated, but it is definitely still a problem,” said Toby Bowers, the coordinator of Bikechain, a University of Toronto repair shop. “In speaking with some of my colleagues at other organizations, it seems like it’s back on the rise again.”
Toronto police crime statistics show a 23 per cent drop between reported thefts in 2007 (4,585) and 2008 (3,543), when Kenk — who paid cash or drugs for stolen bikes, then hoarded them by the thousands in garages across the city before reselling them — was arrested. There was an additional 15 per cent drop in 2009 (3,007).
But figures increased to 3,247 again last year, and with numerous reports of a spike this summer, recorded thefts may go up again in 2011.
“I think most cyclists in the city assumed the problem was largely solved with the arrest of Kenk, whereas the opposite seems to be true,” said Jonathan Bishop, a cyclist who last week chased away a man attempting to steal a bike, only to discover the thief stole another moments later.
For most of the decade, the police division in which Kenk’s store was located has been the worst in the city for bike theft. The area, which includes Parkdale, the Annex and West-Queen West, still topped the list of Toronto’s 17 divisions in the two years after Kenk’s arrest.
Const. George Dubas, 14 division’s crime analyst, says high density, poor street lighting and a generally high level of crime could be to blame.
But he says his figures show a decline in reported bike thefts this year over last, something that could mean people are finally being more careful with their bikes after years of Kenk’s thievery.
Bowers says that doesn’t jive with the increase he’s been seeing. He thinks it’s possible Kenk — who was released in March 2010, and has mostly kept a low profile except for the time he showed up at an event where his bikes were being donated — has been replaced.
“It’s the sort of thing where if you take the biggest fish out of the pond, all of the small fish get bigger.”
Const. Hugh Smith, a bike officer with Toronto’s traffic division, said rather than expecting Kenk’s arrest to eliminate theft, it’s better to prepare for the worst — parking in busy places, and using two locks — and accept the reality that bikes get stolen.
“Crime doesn’t go away,” he said.
How to prevent bike theft
Lock your bike at all times
It doesn’t take long to steal a bike, so never leave it unlocked. Lock your bike even when it’s in your patio or garage — the number 1 place bikes get stolen is from the home.
Invest in high quality locks
You get what you pay for, so the more expensive, the better. And make a habit of using two — one U-lock, one cable.
Park your bike in a high-traffic area
Bike theft is a crime of opportunity, says Const. Hugh Smith, with Toronto’s traffic division. If you leave your bike in a deserted area, no one will notice when someone whips out a pair of wire cutters.
If police have the serial number for your bike, it hugely increases the odds of its return if stolen, and it aids police with prosecution.
-- Wendy Gillis, Staff Reporter