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About Bike Theft >The Problem >
Response Strategies

6. Improving traditional bicycle registration schemes

A principle reason police fail to reunite recovered biycles to their rightful owners (Johnson et al. 2008) is linked to the proof of ownership problem: the majority of cyclists cannot provide proof of ownership for the retrieved cycle. As a result, bicycle registration schemes are a popular mitigating response to bike theft. Schemes such as Immobilise can help reduce cycle theft because : 1) the registration of cycles makes it easier to identify stolen bikes and determine the rightful owner of a bicycle, and 2) it may also serve to deter bike thieves by making registered bikes harder to sell on.

In Portsmouth, U.K. a police initiative aimed to reduce, among other things, theft of bicycles at a local school (Hampshire Constabulary, 2006). Working alongside the local media and council, a bicycle marking scheme was implemented at the school and in the surrounding area in the form of road shows. Bicycles were marked using ultra violet pens or acid etching and a 24:7 telephone database was launched to enable cyclists to log details about themselves and their bikes. Assessment indicated that the number of reported cycle thefts at the school fell by 39% in the year following the scheme.

In Dayton (Ohio USA) 5000 cycles were registered in 1998 and around twice as many (38%) recovered bicycles were returned to their owners. Similarly in Eugene (Oregon), 14% of stolen bikes that had been marked were subsequently recovered compared to 5% of those stolen unmarked.

Such studies suggest that registration schemes may particularly aid the task of returning recovered bicycles to their rightful owners. This can be useful for a number of reasons: it can reduce the number of recovered bikes that must be stored by the police; it can facilitate efforts to return recovered cycles; it may reduce the cost of crime to the victims as they will not have to replace recovered bicycles (unless they are damaged); and it can be a good public relations exercise in that the police are seen as actively doing something about the problem.

A potential shortcoming however with cycle registration schemes is that they are unlikely to prevent theft from cycles, as only the bicycle’s frame is typically marked. In addition, bicycle theft will be prevented only if offenders are aware of the scheme, perhaps linked to a visual deterrent on the bike. But offfenders usually in a hurry to steal bikes, may fail to notice bike markings that indicate the owner has registered it. The overt marking of registered bicycles is therefore important if the aim of the intervention is to prevent cycle theft in addition to aiding the recovery and return of stolen cycles.

©2008 // DESIGN AGAINST CRIME RESEARCH CENTRE // LONDON WC1B 4AP fully funded by the AHRC / EPSRC Designing for the 21st Century Initiative