UI law enforcement reports uptick in bike theft

Thefts have been rising since 2015, leading the UI to introduce Bike Index.


Iowa City police officer Jeffery Schmidt walks through a room containing evidence, personal goods, and bikes on Aug. 29, 2022.

Colin Votzmeyer, News Reporter

Bike thefts are on the rise on campus at the University of Iowa.

The UI Department of Public Safety reported a steady increase in bike thefts across campus in recent years with a specific uptick in electronic bike — or e-bike — thefts. The department partnered with UI Parking and Transportation to register more Iowa City bikes.

There were eight e-bike thefts in 2021 and nine so far in 2022. There were 95 bike thefts reported by UI police in 2021, and 55 bike thefts have been reported in 2022 so far. Theft rates have fluctuated in past years:

Infographic by Liam Halawith/The Daily Iowan

According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Americans spent $8 billion on bicycles and accessories in 2021, up from $7 billion the year before.

Hayley Bruce, UI Department of Public Safety assistant director for communication and external relations, said bike theft is a crime of opportunity that spikes when the weather gets warmer and more people ride their bikes to campus.

She said e-bikes gained popularity and are more available, and their higher value makes them a better target for theft and resale.

“We try to take a multi-pronged approach, so our department actively investigates these reports and tracks the issue very closely,” Bruce said. “Some good news is, in the last week, UI police have made two arrests related to bike theft on campus, and we’ve returned more than $7,000 in stolen property.”

Jacob Papesh, a UI second-year student studying biomedical engineering, brought his bike to the university because he lives off-campus. He said it was quickly stolen.

“I came out the next morning, and it was gone,” Papesh said. “I didn’t even get to ride it to class one day.”

Papesh said the theft frustrated him.

“It’s very inconvenient,” he said. “It’s like a 15-20 minute walk versus a five-minute bike ride.”

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Bruce said the Bike Index, a national bike registry, was introduced to campus in August as an important step in tackling the issue because it prompts bikers to make a detailed record of their property.

UI police encourages bikers to complete their registration with their bike’s serial number, description, photos, and unique details. The bike can then be reported as lost or stolen in the system, which sends an alert.

“If their bike goes missing or is stolen, our officers have the pertinent information they need to investigate thoroughly and take a report,” Bruce said. “It just gives us more tools to get people’s property back to them.”

Papesh said he plans on looking into the Bike Index in the future because he did not register his bike. He filed a report on the theft but has not heard back.

“I think if someone’s going to put in enough effort to steal your bike, they’ll probably steal your bike,” he said. “I guarantee it happens to hundreds of people.”

Michelle Ribble, UI Parking and Transportation commuter programs manager, said she likes the control users have over their own information with the Bike Index.

“If they ever need to provide ownership of that bike, they can get to that record whenever they want it,” Ribble said. “Before, it was in our management system, and they didn’t have any ownership with it, so I really like that idea.”

In addition to Bike Index, Bruce said the UIPD provides registrants with an AirTag, a device that sends its location signal to nearby devices to add a layer of security if the bike goes missing.

She said recovering stolen bikes is not easy, but it can be made easier.

“Due to the volume of bike theft that happens in our area, it can be challenging,” Bruce said.

Students are encouraged to take their bikes home during breaks if it is not their primary mode of transportation and to buy a U-shaped, steel bike lock or chain lock with a nylon cover and deadbolt instead of the typical thin cable lock, she said.

Bruce said the UIPD also encourages people to report suspicious activity near bike racks in a timely manner via a call to the UI Department of Public Safety at 319-335-5022 or a tip through the Rave Guardian app.