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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Students bemoan perceived increase in bike theft on campus

In the first week of his first year at Grinnell, Sergio Martelo ’23 had his bike stolen. He found his bike lock cut in half, lying on the ground and his bike nowhere to be seen.

This summer while living off-campus, Holly Clemons ’21 left her bike in the South Campus Loggia for safekeeping. It had been a gift, funded by contributions from her entire family. One day, her bike and accompanying bike lock disappeared.And Yi-Chia Wang ’20 has had her bike stolen three separate times. Two of those times, she never recovered the bike. The third, she found it a week later outside of Norris.

Bike theft has long been a problem at Grinnell, (a 1968 issue of The S&B asserted that bicycles were being stolen “at the rate of 1 or 2 a day”), but a dominant narrative emerging among students is that theft is increasing in frequency and severity.

Clemons said she has noticed more bikes disappearing this year than in her first two years at Grinnell, as well as more locks being broken, and tires being taken. “It hasn’t always been like this,” she said, expressing her dismay that first-year students may believe this is normal.

Since 2016, the Grinnell Police Department (GPD) has recorded 89 stolen bikes (more precise numbers were unavailable due to ongoing digitization of GPD records). Despite student perceptions of an increase in bike theft, Captain Zachary Sittig doesn’t believe it’s serious. “I don’t think we have an underground bike theft criminal organization that is doing mastermind bike theft,” he said.

And while the GPD is aware of a “spike” in bike thefts at the beginning of the school year, those numbers balanced out as the weeks wore on, Sittig said.

“We did have a couple of instances at the beginning of the school year where I think that there were a couple people in town … that a couple of nights they made it a goal that they were going to go out and take some bikes,” he said.

However, just over 40 percent of respondents to a survey posted on Facebook by The S&B said they did not report the theft of their bike to Campus Safety, raising questions of whether a large portion of bike thefts go unreported.

Sittig noted that if the GPD saw a “numerically and statistically” large increase in bike thefts, they would consider more serious options for prevention, such as a bicycle “sting.”

The S&B survey also indicated that the vast majority of bikes are stolen from in or around the North or South Campus Loggia. The JRC was also a popular spot for bike theft, according to the survey.

In addition, of the 29 respondents, 13 had their bike locked when it was stolen.

Eli Calalang-Lacroix ’21 had secured his bike with two locks—one of which was a U-Lock—when it was stolen from outside Gardener Lounge, something he expresses bafflement about. “I mean, of all of the bikes to go for, I’m really surprised that it was one that was locked so thoroughly,” he said.

Clemons said she thinks the problem of bike theft is serious enough that students and administrators should consider increased surveillance, in particular security cameras in the loggias. “I would not like cameras in loggias generally. But for the safety of expensive pieces of personal property I wish I could see some action being taken,” Clemons said.

Calalang-Lacroix was less enthusiastic about such a proposal. “I feel like it’s just a little bit unsettling to have a camera pointing at you while you walk down the loggia. But it’s a trade-off, you know? Maybe it would help.”

Captain Sittig listed a number of things that the GPD already does to prevent bike thefts, such as regular patrols around bike-heavy areas, including those on campus. However, he also admitted that in the long list of priorities the GPD has, bike theft is lower on the list.

“Grinnell’s a large community for the size of the department that we have,” Sittig said. “I wouldn’t say that it’s a daily top priority to make sure [the GPD officers] are doing bike rack patrols.”

In terms of what students can do to protect their bikes, Sittig said the two most important things are to always lock your bike and to register your bike, either with Campus Safety or the GPD.

“Take the extra five, ten, fifteen seconds it takes to lock your bike up,” he said. “The idea that we’re going to eliminate bike theft as a crime in Grinnell is unrealistic but definitely, we can do better things.”

Sittig also noted that the GPD has a “pretty good” relationship with the College’s Campus Safety. They share information when necessary and work together to investigate and prevent College-related crime.

However, Director of Campus Safety James Shropshire did not attend a scheduled interview with The S&B. It is unclear whether Campus Safety is aware of student concerns or whether any action is being taken to prevent bike theft on campus.

For Clemons, the most distressing part of the recent spate of thefts is the violation of what is supposed to be a safe space on campus. She said she is convinced that a community member rather than a student stole her bike. “It’s so uncomfortable to me to envision a person not living on campus, like a non-student, coming into the loggia in the wee-hours of the night and clipping locks. That image is just so violating.”

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