Imagine, if you will, public reaction to a law enforcement press release like this:
Police are encouraging car owners to lock their cars inside their garages. A secure car is OUT OF SIGHT!!! The Downtown Pct. is experiencing a rash of car thefts. On average 5 cars a week are stolen. In the past you could simply secure your car by locking it. Now reports show 90% of stolen cars were locked. We are attempting to encourage motorists/residents not to leave their cars outside. Remember a secure car is OUT OF SIGHT!!! Keep your car INSIDE!!!
How would citizens respond? Would they perceive that the police force had abdicated its role in fighting auto theft? What about those without access to locking garages? Would they feel abandoned by law enforcement? Probably so.
The excerpt above was taken from portions of a press release issued by the Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department on Tuesday. I substituted references to cars for references to bicycles in the original, which you can read here.
Obviously there are big differences between bicycles and cars and the difficulty in storing each. And recovering them, should they be stolen. Bicycles are easier to bring inside a building, but harder for police to track when stolen. Most of the time (but not always) bicycles are less expensive to replace than cars. Bicycle theft presents a difficult challenge for law enforcement agencies and the SCMPD has tried to inform and involve cyclists through educational events that stress theft prevention techniques and bicycle registration.
Nonetheless, the department’s latest suggestion that bikes should be kept inside and out of sight won’t be much use to those who are not permitted to bring their bicycles into their residences. Or into their workplaces. Or into stores. Or into any other destination at which a person may need to park his or her bike. Take my coworker, for example. His bike was stolen from where it was locked. To a bike rack. Adjacent to his office. On a busy street. On a sunny morning. Just hours before the SCMPD press release went out. But that doesn’t matter because he couldn’t have followed its recommendation anyway.
For the recreational cyclist, who takes a bike for a spin around the neighborhood and then returns it to the garage or storage room, the police department’s advice is viable. But for people who depend on their bicycles for daily transportation, it’s undoubtedly discouraging. For such a person, the experience of having a bike stolen is similar that of the motorist, who comes out of a store to find his or her car missing from the parking lot. It severely restricts personal mobility, disrupts daily life and can cause missed classes, appointments and work shifts.
Again, the press release is an earnest effort to alert the public and reduce bicycle theft, even if it fails to account for the ways many people use their bicycles. And its central premise is 100 percent correct: A bicycle stored inside will almost always be safer than one locked outside. For those whose circumstances make it impossible for them to follow to the police department’s recommendation, learning how to properly lock a bicycle to an immovable object is essential.