A Crime of Opportunity

Rows of bikes line the storefront of Island Life Bikes. (Photo by Danielle Filjon)

By: Danielle Filjon

In a bustling tourist town, a bike is many residents’ vehicle of choice. Bicycles provide a perfect crime and getaway for many other St. Augustine residents as well.

Bike theft is St. Augustine’s most common crime, with bike thefts reported 1-3 times per week on average, according to St. Augustine Police Department. That is just what is reported by the victims. It is important to know how to safely secure your bike to prevent theft, and to alert the authorities right away if you suspect theft.

Officer Gary Johnson of the St. Augustine Police Department (SAPD) is very familiar with bike theft both on Flagler College’s campus as well as in downtown St. Augustine.

“Bike theft is our biggest crime here in St. Augustine, and here on campus as well,” Johnson said. “We have bike thefts that occur, that I know happened, and people just don’t report it. I would say that out of the college students, we have about only 75% report it.”

Empty bike racks near Avenida Menendez in downtown St. Augustine. (Photo by Danielle Filjon)

Officer Johnson heavily promotes bike theft prevention, throughout the campus and the city by handing out flyers as well as doing campus talks to teach students and residents how to secure bikes correctly to avoid theft.

“Theft occurs either because the person hasn’t secured their bike at all, or hasn’t secured it properly,” Johnson said. “Sometimes they will only secure the front tire and that tire will be the only thing left secured to the rack and the rest will be gone.”

Securing your bike with quality locks and in multiple locations on the bike’s frame and wheels is what SAPD recommends to deter thieves who are out for a quick crime.

“Bike theft is a crime of opportunity,” Johnson said. “If the thief sees something unsecured, and they can get it quickly and easily, they just take what they can.”

These bicycles have been picked at quite a bit. Also, is that a rusty chain being used as a bike lock? (Photo by Danielle Filjon)

Julia Corrie, a Flagler College senior, was a victim of bicycle theft her sophomore year in 2019, when the college was closed for winter break.

Corrie filed a report with SAPD, which started an investigation that uncovered campus security footage of the theft happening.

“A week after I filed the report, Officer Johnson called me and said that they found the security footage of my bike being stolen, and it showed a figure at around 4 o’clock in the morning swinging my bike back and forth and ripping it from the bike rack.”

Two bicycles locked using the same lock at the seawall, with the wheels and seats left unprotected. (Photo by Danielle Filjon)

The thief easily broke the cable lock attached to the bike rack, and made off with the entire bike. SAPD recommends to secure bikes using steel U-locks that won’t be broken. They are made of high quality metals that can withstand any human attempt to break.

“I didn’t think the lock that I had was low quality, but apparently with the cable locks, if you put enough momentum in the bike when it’s locked it can break really easily,” Corrie said. “so I was told to get a U-Lock.”

Police say riders should know their bike’s serial number, often found under the seat or under the bottom bracket where the two pedal cranks come together. This serial number can be entered in a statewide and national database by the police for property theft.

“It is very important to know your bike’s serial number. That would have helped me a lot in my case,” Corrie said. 

A patriotoc display passing by Meehan’s Irish Pub in downtown. (Photo by Danielle Filjon

So, what do these thieves do with stolen bicycles and parts?

“A lot of the time, the people who steal bikes are just scanning for parts that aren’t secured, and piecing together a bike out of stolen parts either to sell the bike or use it,” Brandon Ricondo of Island Life Bikes said.

Ricondo, an employee of Island Life Bikes on Anastasia Island, is experienced with bike thieves stealing his bikes and piecing together new bikes with stolen parts.

A bike’s serial number, under the bottom bracket near the pedal cranks. (Photo by Danielle Filjon)

“There was a time where a lot of people’s seat posts where missing and wheels. People just take the stuff thinking it’s going to fit their bikes. Nine times out of 10 it doesn’t,” Ricondo said.

Island Life Bikes does not buy used bikes, because that would encourage more bike theft in St. Augustine.

“Another shop I used to work at bought used bikes, but here we don’t,” Ricondo said. “More and more shops aren’t buying used anymore because of theft.”

Ricondo at Island Life Bikes rolling in bicycles for the night (Photo by Danielle Filjon)

Ricondo himself has been a victim of bicycle theft multiple times, and has filed reports to SAPD and been able to recover each of the bikes.

“One time a guy brought a bike in to sell, and I realized that it was my bike that had been missing for about two years,” Ricondo said.

The police had sold it at an impound sale, and Ricondo was able to get the bicycle back after presuming it was gone forever.

“I know plenty of people who were not so lucky, and I was definitely one of the lucky ones to be able to get my bikes back,” Ricondo said.

Island Life Bikes sells high-quality U-locks that are one of the best defenses against bicycle theft. Having multiple locks securing the wheels and the frame is also another way to prevent individual parts from being stolen.

A U-lock for sale at Island Life Bikes. Strong locks like these are not easy to break like cable locks are. (Photo by Danielle Filjon)

Police advise riders to register their bikes and know their serial numbers. As a preemptive measure, individual bicycles can be registered with the SAPD, making it easier to track a bike so that police know if they are stolen.

Officer Gary Johnson stresses the importance of knowing your bicycle’s serial number, which can be found either under the seat or under the bottom bracket near the pedal crank.

A bike left unsecured at the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Leaving your bike unlocked and unattended attracts thieves, police say. (Photo by Danielle Filjon)

“Serial numbers are unique to every bicycle, so if it is stolen, I can enter it in a national database and the state database for crime information,” Johnson said. “We are able to use this technology more than ever before to better track missing bikes.”

SAPD is working to reduce bicycle theft, but it is also up to the bike owner to secure their bicycle safely and effectively.

“We will do everything we can to reduce bike theft crime here because any crime is a bad crime,” Johnson said.

A man walks his folding bicycle on the St. Augustine Municipal Marina. Folding bikes are easy to compact and storable in a closet or a trunk of a car. Many people have resorted to using them in light of rampant bike theft in St. Augustine. (Photo by Danielle Filjon)
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