CHAMPAIGN-URBANA, Illinois — The popularity of electric scooters and bikes has accelerated in the last few months, and University of Illinois Police have seen a corresponding increase in the number of those devices being reported stolen.
Meanwhile, conventional bicycles continue to be a target for thieves, especially when they are locked only with a cable lock.
University Police are taking steps to address the increase in thefts — they have already made four arrests and have identified at least two more people of interest in a series of incidents. That investigative work, in concert with the redeployment of anti-theft bikes, is intended to reduce the number of transportation items stolen.
Those already arrested are believed to have been responsible for most of the electric scooter thefts.
“Bike thefts are unfortunately common on college campuses everywhere, and ours is no exception to that,” said University Police Chief Alice Cary. “We know how important these devices are for students to get to and from their classes and work, and we want to make sure we do everything we can to protect their property and reduce these thefts, which can be a major disruption in their daily lives.”
Between Aug. 1 and Oct. 12, University Police received 69 reports of stolen bicycles, e-scooters and e-bikes. Only 26 were reported stolen during the same time period the previous year. A map of those thefts is included at the bottom of this page.
Notably, 19 of the theft reports during the fall 2022 semester were related to electric scooters and electric bikes. None of those devices were reported stolen during the 2021 period. That is likely due to the increase in their popularity over the last year and more of those devices being used by students now.
Part of the overall increase may be due to the fact that University Police are now accepting online reports of theft, making it easier for campus community members to report stolen property. Students likely are reporting thefts online that otherwise would have stayed unreported.
In response, police are using security cameras to identify suspects, and are preparing this month to redeploy anti-theft bikes (sometimes referred to as “bait bikes”) around campus to help identify offenders.
Theft reports during the period of Aug. 1 to Oct. 12 for each year:
Officers on patrol are keeping closer watch on bike parking areas, and their recent work is evidence of that:
On Oct. 14, University Police arrested a 46-year-old man who they recognized as the person seen in security camera images during the Oct. 7 theft of an electric scooter at the Campus Instructional Facility, 1405 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana. Police found wire cutters and a multitool in the backpack he was carrying.
On Oct. 3, University Police arrested a 26-year-old man near Fifth and Healey streets, Champaign, for a bike theft after police officer saw him riding a bicycle and pulling a second bicycle along with him. The serial number of the bicycle he was pulling matched that of a bicycle reported stolen in June from Roger Adams Laboratory, 600 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana. The bike was returned to its owner, and the man is facing a charge of misdemeanor theft.
On Oct. 1, police stopped two people suspected of stealing bikes thanks to community members who promptly reported suspicious activity. Within minutes of each other, one person reported seeing someone throwing a bicycle into a dumpster near Scott Hall, 202 E. Peabody Drive, Champaign, and another person reported seeing a man aggressively pulling on a bike locked to a rack near Fifth and Daniel streets, Champaign. Simultaneously, a U. of I. student called to report that her bike was missing from Wassaja Hall, 1202 S. First St., Champaign.
Police stopped a man whose clothes matched a security camera image from Scott Hall and a witness description from Fifth and Daniel. He did not have a bicycle at the time he was stopped, and he was issued a no-trespassing notice for U. of I. property. The bicycle in the dumpster was recovered and returned to the student at Wassaja Hall.
Separately, police have used security cameras to identify a suspect in a bike theft reported Sept. 12 at the Campus Instructional Facility, 1405 W. Springfield Ave., Urbana. The person in the images is suspected of being involved in additional cases over the past couple months. Police are releasing those images here with the hope that a community member can identify him.
In September, University Police arrested two men involved in the theft of at least seven scooters thanks to a student who placed a GPS tracking device on his scooter.
When questioned about the motivation for the thefts, one of the men said he took the scooters because they are fun to ride and he had no plans to sell them. He added that it is easy to steal scooters that are secured only with a cable lock because the cable slips over the handlebars. He said scooters locked with a U-lock are much more difficult to steal.
“Our officers have done a lot of proactive work to identify offenders who are involved in multiple thefts, and their work has no doubt reduced the number of thefts already,” Cary said. “However, the biggest crime prevention tool we have is our community members, and there are a couple things they can do to help prevent theft on campus.”
The biggest action community members can take is properly locking their bicycles and scooters. Thieves tend to target bicycles that are locked only with a cable lock because cable locks are easy to defeat — especially the cheaper ones. Campus community members are encouraged to purchase a U-lock to secure their bicycles to a rack.
Cable locks also present an issue with scooters, because there is no proper way to use a cable lock to secure a scooter to a bicycle rack. Often, a cable lock can simply be lifted from the scooter, freeing the scooter from the rack without much work involved. Thieves know this and look for those situations.
Some e-scooters have locking points built into their design, and owners should check their user manuals to determine the best way to secure their specific scooter. Often that means using a U-lock on these devices as well.
Students can also place GPS tracking devices on their bikes and scooters. GPS information is not a complete solution, but it does provide valuable evidence for police when an item is lost or stolen.
Students are also encourage to register their bikes with the university at go.illinois.edu/mybike. Registration information and serial numbers make it more likely that your bike will be recovered and identified in the event that it is ever stolen.