by GRACE SCHUMACHER
This year, there has been an increase in bike theft around the Mary Washington campus. According to the UMW Crime Log, four bicycles have been stolen so far from various locations including Palmieri Plaza, Monroe Hall, Bushnell Hall and Brent Hall. In both 2019 and 2020, three instances of bike larceny occurred throughout each entire school year.
“I had my bike stolen last year,” said Hollis Cobb, a senior English major. “I reported it to the UMW Police but never got an update from them, so I ended up just getting a new bike.”
Lieutenant Brad Sullivan, head of campus investigations, says that UMW Police has access to a plethora of inexhaustible resources and that some cases can stay open for two or three years until the bike is eventually located.
“We have a close relationship with the Fredericksburg Police network and we are connected with local pawn shops,” said Sullivan. “We want students to know that we keep our cases open or pending until we recover the stolen bike.”
As stated in the 2022-2023 UMW Student Handbook, all bicycles are required to be registered with the UMW Police, either on-site at Brent House or at bike registration events on campus.
Similar to the information collected when registering a car, during the process a student provides their bike’s serial number, make and model in order to receive a unique sticker to place on their bike.
“Once we have all the information, the officers can put it into the system,” said UMW Police Chief Michael Hall. “So if someone runs the sticker, boom, there it is.”
After it is inputted into the Virginia Criminal Information Network database, which is a centralized source for registration information accessible to all law enforcement agencies in every state, a student’s bike can be flagged if it is involved in a case of larceny.
“If someone were to try and pawn a bike stolen from campus, the registration sticker acts as a deterrent,” said Sullivan. “It says ‘wait a minute, stolen from UMW or missing from UMW.’”
However, many students say resources regarding bike policy are difficult to locate, outdated or missing altogether. Senior geography major Dylan Wright was surprised to hear that registering your bike was even an option.
“I brought a bike to campus this year but was unaware that I had to or could register it with campus police,” said Wright. “Therefore, I did not.”
The 2022-23 student event calendar, a resource listing all student events on campus, does not include a bike registration event. UMW’s digital bicycle regulation resources have not been updated since the 2013-14 academic year, and many of the links and information provided are no longer accurate.
Currently, with online bicycle registration not available, students have to attend one of the registration events or bring their bikes to Brent Hall. This is so that an officer can collect identifying information about the bike and help the student locate the bike’s serial number.
Emma Bower, a senior creative writing and studio art major, expressed frustration regarding the university’s bike policy.
“Why does the university not set up a way to register your bike online? Going all the way to Brent House can be such a pain,” said Bower.
UMW Police do plan to re-introduce online registration. However, students will still need to visit Brent House in person to pick up their stickers.
With over 50 bicycle parking locations on campus and bike-friendly routes, traveling on two wheels is a popular alternative to the hassle of college parking and transportation problems. Since UMW’s bike registry was established in 2004, 1,309 bicycles have been registered.
According to the National Bike Registry, “a four-year student bicyclist faces a 53% or 1 in 2 chance of losing their bike to theft.” In addition, 1.5 million bikes are reported stolen from college campuses every year, but the speculated 4.5 million unreported thefts put the odds and numbers potentially much higher.
In addition to this ongoing problem, students have been noticing their bikes disappearing from the racks where they originally left them and reappearing across campus in a new location. Cobb’s bike, before being outright stolen, was first taken for a joyride.
“I was studying in the HCC until 2 or 3 a.m. and when I left, my bike was gone from the rack outside,” said Cobb. “There was still an overnight security guard at the HCC, so I let him know, and someone from UMW PD happened to be there too. They said they would file a report on my bike and looked in the immediate area. When I walked back across campus afterward, I happened to spot my bike in a rack in front of George Washington Hall. I guess someone had taken it to ride across campus and then dumped it.”
Hall says that he has noticed a majority of bikes that are reported as stolen are actually just displaced around campus, a result of joyrides or “bike borrowing.”
“If you have a student and they need to get to the other side of campus in 2 minutes, and bikes outside are not locked up, they’ll hop on a bike and drive across campus,” said Hall. “Many of the bikes we find are actually abandoned at different racks.”
A core element of UMW’s mission statement is the Honor Code, which is based upon the integrity of each student and their obligation to act honorably in all facets of campus life. And, while all Mary Washington students are asked to make a pledge to uphold the Honor System, some students find it very hard to put their faith in that promise.
“I brought a bike from home that had been in my family for decades,” said Cobb. “I probably took more liberties with it than I should have though, but I trusted people around campus because of UMW’s Honor Code … I learned my lesson and I started locking my bike all the time.”
The goal of the Honor Code is to curate an environment in which members of the campus community feel they can leave laptops, backpacks and valuable items unattended. However, Bower shares Cobb’s opinion.
“I want to believe that people will do the right thing, but I don’t know everyone on campus,” said Bower. “Relying on the moral compass of a stranger feels too risky, especially with something expensive like a bike.”
UMW Police reminds students that the university is an open campus, and all kinds of individuals have the ability to access campus.
“Locking your bike is like locking your car or your house,” said Hall. “It doesn’t guarantee that your bike won’t get taken, but by securing it, you make them work for it.”