Bicycle theft at UN campus in Bonn

Thief lashes out with saw

Symbolic shot.

BONN. At the train stop UN campus in Bonn, many bikes get stolen because no safe parking spaces are available. A suspected thief was caught in the act on Tuesday morning, and lashed out with a saw.

„Caution! Bikes get stolen at night here regularly!“ reads one flyer, at a lamp post near the train stop UN campus. The area around the stop, in operation since last year, developed into a major focal point for bicycle theft. Whether the proposed covered bike parking spaces will help is questionable. Real protection can - according to the police - only be provided by personal initiative. In the long run, the theft figures are relatively consistent in Bonn though.

It was quite noticeable how cheeky bike thieves are on Tuesday morning: A man tried to sever a spiral lock, when construction workers noticed what he was doing. When they confronted him, he lashed out with his saw and fled. Police officers caught him in an allotment garden nearby a short time later.

„Thieves show up here at any time of day“, reports GA reader Erwin Homm. Twice he has had bikes stolen at the UN campus. Thick locks didn’t help, neither did visible and busy parking spots.

When there’s an opportunity, the thieves seem to use it. The police in Bonn confirm this. Thieves choose badly secured bikes on purpose, pick locks or carry their loot away just like that. „Especially there, where many bikes are parked“, explains police spokesperson Robert Scholten. He names the areas around train stations, larger bus and tram stops, park & ride spots and educational institutions as examples. According to him the UN campus stop is unequivocally part of this list. But garages and cellars are also not entirely safe.

More than 50 bicycles are regularly parked at the stop. They are secured with heavy steel shackles, some with thin chains. What they all have in common: They are attached to site fences, railings and fences, some are left between trees in the green areas. „Sometimes they are also left unsecured“, says Scholten. There is no real alternative - bicycle parking spaces are planned, but when they will be built remains uncertain.

Many thefts remain unreported

The district administration Bonn implemented a proposal by the council to double the amount of parking spaces. 175.000 Euro is supposed to be spent on 160 spaces on the Kessenich side of the train tracks, another 64 should come to the other side towards the B9. In order to save space, the bikes will be parked on top of each other. The demand should be catered for according to counting statistics by the city council.  Whether that reduces the theft figures is questionable.

In Bonn, between 2900 and 3500 bicycles get stolen annually. In 2017 the figures decreased, but until then they were increasing a lot. The crime clearance rate is usually around 5 percent - only every 20th bike which was reported stolen finds its way back to its owner. „Bike theft is an offence that is difficult to solve“, explains Scholten.

The culprits pick a simple lock within seconds. „They are barely noticeable, leave no or little traces.“ And the subsequent search always proves to be difficult, because owners often don’t know their frame numbers. But only with those can a frame be safely identified. The experience of the investigators shows that culprits often sell on the bikes online or via a „dealer“, sometimes taken apart and sold in pieces. 

Stolen bikes are searched for by the police. But there is a large unknown figure because many people don’t report the theft or report it late, when the insurance forces them.

„But it is important to report a stolen bike so that the police have a chance to recognise hotspots and notice developments“, says Scholten. The best protection though is pure deterrence, as the German Bicycle Association (ADFC) confirms. Strong U-locks and armoured cables. Rule of thumb: A lock should cost about 10 percent of the bike’s price.

Every bike owner with a smartphone can also use the police’s free bike passport app. All important ID data of the bike can be saved there. The details can be printed out or send on in an email to be available immediately for the police or insurance in case they are needed.

Insurances also cover the theft if it happens on the street - if the household insurance contains the additional clause.

(Original text: GA Bonn, Nicolas Ottersbach; Translation: Mareike Graepel)