Insurance company catches bike thieves on tape

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Recently, the Czech insurance company Česká pojištovna announced the results of a curious study monitoring bike theft. In the project, the firm left bikes unlocked in 14 different towns and cities and watched how look it would take before they were stolen.

Photo: archive of Česká Pojišťovna
The firm’s Ivana Buriánková discussed the details with me in our interview; I asked her first how many bikes in the Czech Republic are reported stolen annually.

“Police statistics show that last year there were 7,700 bicycles reported stolen in the Czech Republic. We know that bikes are stolen year-round but of course most bikes are stolen between the period of March through October, some 82 percent. There has been an increase in recent years: for example in 2011, some five hundred fewer bikes were stolen. Prague has the most bike theft as well as cities in northern Moravia; by contrast, the fewest bikes are stolen in the spa town of Karlovy Vary.”

Your firm recently conducted an interesting study on bike theft. Can you tell me more about that project?

“The aim was to point out – with a certain level of exaggeration – the growing problem of bike theft and to draw attention to the fact that bike insurance is available. We left 14 bikes unlocked in the biggest cities and towns in the country’s 14 regions, and used two hidden cameras and a stopwatch to monitor how long it took as well as how bikes were stolen. All of the bikes were identical and cost around 5,000 crowns each. All were bought at a normal sporting goods store.”

So they weren’t high-end...

“That’s right. We wanted more ordinary bikes to replicate better the situation you might see on the streets. It is more likely to see normal bikes than exclusive brands.”

Of course, none of these bikes was locked... Do you think that that was a deciding factor in some of the thefts? That those who ordinarily wouldn’t steal anything were tempted to do so?

Ivana Buriánková, photo: archive of Česká Pojišťovna
“It’s true that to a certain degree that opportunity makes the thief, a saying we have in Czech, but in this case we saw that many of the bikes were stolen by smaller organised groups, that knew what they were doing.”

On average, how long did it take for a bike to be stolen?

“The average length of time that bikes went untouched was under two hours. The quickest was in four minutes in the town of Hradec Králové. By contrast, in Olomouc, the bike lasted for five hours before it was taken.”

Were there cases were the bikes weren’t stolen at all?

“There were: in three towns it didn’t happen: Pardubice, České Budějovice and Jihlava.”

“In areas where bikes were taken, a lot of the time it was small groups who were involved in stealing. One exception was in Hradec Kralove, where the bike was stolen in just four minutes. A man came along, saw it, and without thinking about it too long, jumped on and rode away. But each of the stolen bikes had its own unique story.”

You mentioned that a lot of the cases were organised gangs – I imagine skilled at breaking simple locks – and this was even easier. Were there cases where opportunity did create thieves? The story of the bike stolen by children where peer pressure appears to have played a role...

“In the case of the children in Brno, they saw the bike and discussed it and encouraged each other to take it until one of them finally did. From the tape it is clear that they knew what they were doing was wrong.

“In other cases, there were also adults who went by and saw bikes and looked around and perhaps think about it and left. The ones who we taped who obviously had experience with stealing behaved differently and they weren’t worried: they had a special mode of behaviour.”

Is Česká pojištovna taking any steps?

“We are cooperating with the police and we provided the authorities with the images. One of the thieves in Karlovy Vary was apprehended as a result and the bike was even recovered.”

Photo: archive of Radio Prague
What will be done with the three bikes that weren’t stolen?

“They are being donated to orphanages where I think they will be appreciated.”

In the cities where bikes weren’t stolen, did anyone react positively?

“Some local articles made note of it but most journalists stuck to the overall story.”

One of the aims was to highlight bike theft insurance: if your bike gets stolen, how do make your claim?

“First, a police report is needed, then, in the case of expensive bikes, a receipt or proof of purchase.”

I am assuming that the bikes had to be locked...

“You can also make a claim if there has been an effort to protect your property: the bike may have been stolen from a cellar or locked apartment basement.”

If you have a very expensive bike from 30 to 50 or even one hundred thousand crowns, I suppose owners never get back the full amount?

“There are cases we pay back the full amount – even if it is not brand new – where they do but it depends on the type of insurance they have.”

For more ordinary bikes, what does the insurance cost annually?

“A bike costing 20,000, the insurance is under 1,000 crowns. For a bike costing 50,000 it is roughly double: 1,800.