Chet Greason, Gazette staff
Stratford police have announced that 10 bicycles have been stolen in Stratford since Oct. 6, with six of them going missing over the same 24 hour period.
Four of the stolen bikes had their locks cut while others have gone unreported. A number of unlocked vehicles were also entered, with thieves making off with electronics, tools, and personal documents.
Despite the thefts, Inspector Sam Theocharis of Stratford Police Services insists the crimes are nothing unusual.
“We don’t want people to be alarmed...We’re not the only community this happens to,” he says, adding Stratford numbers remain average when compared, per capita, with other municipalities.
Theocharis explains that most communities will typically see a surge in thefts, followed by a quiet period after a few arrests are made.
“Maybe not connected to bike thefts, but other charges...and low and behold, bike thefts go down.”
He said sometimes these thefts are done by individuals feeding a drug habit. These bicycles are typically sold to a chop shop where they’re stripped down; the various parts sold individually.
Other times, says Theocharis, it’s not a drug addict at all; just someone with no record who simply has a temporary lapse in judgement and steals an unlocked bike to save themselves a walk home.
“Chances are, they’re just riding it from point A to point B,” he says.
Either way, Theocharis warns residents that leaving bicycles and vehicles unlocked provides thieves with easy opportunities. He encourages everyone to lock up their property whenever possible.
But is locking your bike a guarantee it won’t go missing? Mike Pretty, owner of Totally Spoke’d bike shop, says no...but it does help.
“Lock it always,” he says. “Your choice of lock is your biggest defense.”
Pretty says all cable locks can be cut, whereas U-locks cannot. U-locks, meanwhile, have limited surfaces they can be connected to.
Some locks act as a kind of insurance policy. One lock company will pay for the replacement of your bike (up to $2,500) if it’s registered with the company and the owner can produce a cut lock.
However, Pretty says thieves don’t always need to cut the lock. He’s heard of expensive brake systems being removed while the rest of the bike has been left. One brazen thief even sawed the head off a parking meter and slipped the lock off over the top.
“Time and place is a big factor too,” says Pretty. “In a back alley, true, no one will see your bike; but no one will see them stealing it either. I always say lock it in a high traffic area.”
Last Saturday, both Sara Bradford and her son had their bicycles stolen off of their front porch. Both bikes were locked.
Bradford has yet to tell the police or, for that matter, her son.
“He’s going to be really upset,” she says. “I think any time something is taken from you, you feel horribly violated. Mostly I feel bad for my kids because it’s not something they should be exposed to yet.”
Bradford says that, over the past five years, her family has had three strollers, three scooters, and a bike trailer stolen. However, she says a neighbour’s bike was recently stolen, then mysteriously returned a few days later, leaving her with hope the same may happen to her family’s bikes.
Allison Choppick was one of the unlucky ones who had her expensive racing bike stripped down after it was stolen while locked outside of the Stratford VIA Rail station in April. Though the thief was caught and sentenced to six months in prison thanks to video surveillance, all that remained of Choppick’s bike was the frame, stripped of everything and defaced by black permanent marker.
“His jail term was a bittersweet ending,” she says, explaining that the thief was to pay her back $3,000 but, as he’s incarcerated and lacking income, “I won’t see any of it.”
Choppick says she already suffered from depression prior to the theft, but the loss of her bike hit especially hard. Not only was it her only means of conveyance, but it had deep sentimental value as well. It even had a name: “White Lightning.”
“I can’t put the bike back together without that money,” she says, noting that $3,000 is only part of the total cost to return the bike to its condition prior to its theft. “If he hadn’t been put in jail, he would have been able to have an income to pay what he owes me.”
Still, Theocharis is optimistic, saying theft stats in Stratford have actually been on a steady decline since 2008.
“It was pretty quiet up until August...But we’ve been seeing more of this type of call over the last few weeks. We don’t know why.”
Inspector Theocharis encourages those who have had their bicycles go missing to contact Stratford police as found bikes are stored in their garage. The public is welcome to view the collection of recovered bicycles on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Theocharis encourages people to call first and set up an appointment. It also helps to have a description, photo, or serial number reader to better help identify the missing property.