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Saturday, October 25, 2014

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Rising cycle of thefts: Bike thefts at record pace in Fairfield

Published 7:32 am, Thursday, July 31, 2014

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  • Police have been dealing with a rash of bicycle thefts, most notably at the town's train stations. Photo: Genevieve Reilly / Fairfield Citizen
    Police have been dealing with a rash of bicycle thefts, most notably at the town's train stations. Photo: Genevieve Reilly

 

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Bicycle thieves have been on a roll in Fairfield over the last few months.

The bikes have been stolen from open garages, front lawns, back porches, bike racks and, in a couple of cases, from racks on vehicles packed up for vacation. Some may just be worth $50 or $100, but one that was stolen was a specialty racing model valued at $8,000.

The pace of bicycle thefts has accelerated this summer, with the local train stations a favorite target. But the thefts aren't limited to one part of town, Lt. James Perez said, but are happening all over.

To date, 47 bicycle thefts have been reported this year, including one Monday, a $250 Schwinn hybrid taken from a back yard of a house on Ruane Street. That's already more than 2013, when a total of 34 bicycles were reported stolen, with the mounting dollar-value loss estimated at $20,000.

Police aren't simply taking the reports of what some may consider petty thefts, and tossing them aside. Investigators have at least one suspect, and possibly another, linked to some of the recent thefts and are pursuing arrest warrants, Perez said.

Security cameras at the downtown train station captured an image of a suspect, who was spotted downtown by an off-duty officer, and identified. Perez said they expect to make an arrest soon. The downtown train station is run by the town's Parking Authority, which installed the security cameras. There are no security cameras at the Fairfield Metro station, which is under the state Department of Transportation's jurisdiction.

Residents, however, need to help put the brakes on bicycle thefts, Perez said, by taking steps to help prevent the crime.

First, he advised, bike owners should treat their two-wheeled modes of transportation as an investment. "You shouldn't spend a couple hundred dollars on a bike and then buy a cheap bike lock," he said. "Most people have inadequate bike locks."

A cheap cable lock, Perez said, can be easily cut off a bike in a matter of seconds. "You want a lock that is bolt cutter-resistant," he said, or even one equipped with an alarm for high-end bikes. "Spending a lot of money on a bike, but a little of money on a lock is foolish," he said.

At Zane's Cycles store in the Brick Walk commercial complex, sales rep Peter Angus said the business carries two types of locks -- a combination cable lock or a "U" lock that is opened with a key.

"The U lock is a little more durable," Angus said. "The cable lock is more convenient, but also more flexible, and with a little extra effort can be removed." Zane's sells the U lock for $45, and the cable lock for $35.

It's important, he said, to put the lock through both the wheel spokes and the body of the bike to make it more difficult for thieves. "You don't want to be the easiest bike to take, and you don't want to be the prettiest," Angus said.

He said the store has seen a growing number of customers looking to buy bike locks. "I just had a woman come in because just the other day she was at 16 Handles (frozen yogurt shop) and left her bike unlocked and it was gone," Angus said. "She came in and got bike locks for her kids."

Alarms for bikes are more of a special order item, he said, adding, "People aren't really looking to spend that kind of money."

A quick search on Amazon.com turned up alarms for bicycles and motorcycles ranging from $3.69 for an alarm that is unlocked via a 4-digit code and emits 110 decibels if the bike is moved while the alarm is activated to a $104 alarm lock equipped with a remote pager.

Angus said Zane's makes a record of the serial number of each bike that is sold, and that customers often call for that number after a bike is stolen to help with the search.

That, Perez said, is something else all bike owners should do -- write down the bike's serial number -- and also take pictures of the bike. Another good idea, he said, is etching a special mark on the bike to help identify a bike should it be recovered.

And many stolen bicycles are recovered.

Sitting in storage at the Police Department headquarters right now are 34 bikes. Some of them, Perez said, were used by suspects committing a crime, but the bulk are stolen bikes that have been recovered but never claimed.

Don't think that leaving a bicycle in the front yard while you dash inside for a few minutes is safe, Perez warns. "Thieves are opportunists," he said, "they're looking for the quickest and easiest hit." They'll target what Perez called a "weak house" -- one where a bike may be laying casually on the lawn, or where the garage doors are always open even when no one is around.

Bike thieves, he said, can basically be broken down into two groups -- teens looking for a bike for personal use, or people looking to steal high-end bikes and sell them on the street or pawn them.

"If you see a person on a bike, who's got a second bike with them, it's probably stolen," Perez said, and the best thing the public can do when such suspicions arise is to call police. "And if you see two rides on one bike, chances are they are looking for a second bike to steal," he added.