Although UC Irvine is ranked as one of the safest California college campuses (achieving an “A” rating in Safety and Security on CollegeProwler.com) in one of the safest cities, the campus is not completely without problems. Bike theft, while not an epidemic, continues to affect dozens of students each year.
Lieutenant Baltazar De La Riva of the UCI Police Department said that there have been 22 reported cases of stolen bicycles in November 2007, six in December of the same year and five in January 2008. He compared these statistics to more recent trends, stating that 11 bikes had been reported stolen in November 2008, four in December 2008 and 11 just last month.
De La Riva stated that communication between the city police departments is key to spotting new trends in certain crimes.
“At UCI, we work closely with other law enforcement agencies when they see an increase in a certain crime,” De La Riva said. “If there is a rise in a crime trend, our detectives will contact surrounding agencies such as the Irvine PD, Newport PD, Orange PD and so on.”
According to De La Riva, any number of bike thefts is a cause for concern.
“We know that students and faculty rely on bikes as a mode of transportation,” De La Riva said. “We analyze crime trends on a monthly basis so we can identify as soon as possible where crimes are being committed, what it is about the location, if it’s a specific type of bike being stolen, [and so on].”
In order to track down suspects and unearth information, the UCIPD employs numerous techniques. De La Riva stated that students whose property has been stolen will uncover the information and report it to the police department. Additionally, the police department sets up undercover operations that will go out and use specific information to recover the stolen property and find the suspects, the same technique that is used for auto thefts.
De La Riva explained that the most common method for bike thieves is using a pair of bolt cutters on a bike’s lock.
“They fit easily in backpacks and with some work can even break a U-lock,” De La Riva said.
A U-lock is a thick metal ring attached to a crossbar and is widely viewed in the biking world as one of the most resistant locks out there for bikes. Despite the fact that they can sometimes be broken, De La Riva reaffirms the reliability of the U-lock.
However, he said that bicyclists as well as non-bicyclists should keep an eye out for peculiar behavior around campus, as bike thieves are often not students and have no relation to the campus.
According to De La Riva, bike thieves will choose the path of least resistance just like anyone else.
“Chances are they’ll take the [bike] that is least secure,” De La Riva said. “If you see someone crouching near a bike or acting in a strange manner, if something doesn’t look right to you, take a few seconds to stop and take note.”
According to De La Riva, the concept of bikes that are stolen can extend to the campus community as a whole.
“We as individuals have a responsibility to be aware of our surroundings to make sure we don’t create an environment conducive to becoming a victim of crime,” De La Riva said. “You’d be surprised how many bikes we see parked at the bike racks without any sort of security. And if nobody reports these crimes, we won’t know they’re going on.”
De La Riva said that he has not seen a recent significant rise in bike theft on campus.
Regardless, as a measure to prevent bicycle theft and assist in the recovery of stolen bicycles, the police department sets up booths on Ring Road during Welcome Week for students to register their bicycles. Once the bicycle’s serial number is entered into California’s database, the bike owner will receive a sticker to put on their bike. Records have shown that bicycles with registration stickers are less likely to be stolen than bicycles without them.
Paul Lapis, a second-year biology major at UCI, recalled walking out of Mesa Court and wondering where his bike had gone.
“My first thought was that I misplaced it. [Later] I finally accepted that my bike had been stolen. I asked myself, what petty thief would waste their time stealing my bike? I hope it wasn’t a student. I expect more from our campus,” Lapis said.
Naz Farahdel, a fourth-year criminology and psychology double-major, remembered when she discovered her bike had been stolen.
“I had left it downstairs at my apartment on 49th Street in Newport with my friend’s bike,” Farahdel said, “and we left both of them unlocked. I went downstairs later that night and my bike was gone, but [my friend’s bike] was still there. My bike had a flat tire, so I thought my roomies were just pranking me, but it turns out it really was stolen. I loved that bike.”
Sergeant Steve Monsanto, a 17-year UCIPD veteran, stressed that even Aldrich Park is a place to avoid at night.
“Although there are no solid statistics, [Aldrich Park] is potentially a dangerous place at night,” Monsanto said.
Monsanto suggests that students avoid leaving their belongings in the park at night, even if they’re chained to a lamp-post or handrail.
“The old days of police work where we could go out there and solve crimes ourselves are gone,” De La Riva said. “We have to work together these days to keep our community safe.”