Sarnia Police Chief Derek Davis says a recent Bike Theft Project was the result of community feedback and some startling numbers across the city.
“This is a public concern that we the police need to be aware of, and should be taking some action,” said Davis, pointing to a series of recent town hall sessions and a community survey conducted to gather public feedback as part of the service’s strategic planning.
Nearly 700 thefts have been reported so far this year — including a large number of bicycle thefts — compared to 800 in 2021, and that was a 24% increase from the previous year.
He pointed to Facebook groups like ‘Stolen Bikes of Sarnia’ that boast thousands of members.
Davis also noted a significant number of survey respondents who said they didn’t report crimes to police, namely, because they ‘felt nothing would happen’ or that police would take too long to respond.
“We have to remember that every crime is very personal for the people involved,” he said. “And that human element is something that we very much need to be mindful of as a police organization.”
That’s what led to the Bicycle Theft Project, which Davis explained this week in a presentation highlighting the service’s efforts to tackle the problem with a different lens.
Police ‘bate bikes’ were placed at various locations throughout the city over the course of the project, which saw 11 people arrested and 24 criminal code charges laid. In one case, the bike was stolen within ten minutes.
Omitting names and personal identifiers, Davis shared several ‘offender profiles’ to give a better idea of who is committing the thefts; many were already on probation, heavily tied to drugs, and had multiple criminal charges on record. The intent was clear: steal the bike, then paint or change parts, and sell it.
One offender even admitted to police that, had the bike been locked up, he would have “walked to the Home Hardware store around the corner stole a pair of bolt cutters, and proceed back to get the bike,” then would have “taken the bike to a friend’s house, painted it, altered the serial number and sold it for drugs.”
Davis made particular note of one of the offenders who had no previous criminal charges or probation conditions.
“He admits he has a drug problem which was the reason he was stealing the bike to sell,” Davis said, stressing the importance of taking advantage of partnerships with other community agencies to help direct people towards recovery.
“Addiction is not a crime — it is something that needs to be treated; and most of these people are in need of significant assistance so that they can beat their addictions.
“If we can find them the resources, and they’re able to deal with their addiction, we likely wouldn’t have to deal with the as a future problem,” he said. “The prevention angle is something that’s important…and this is part of where we want to go as a police agency.”