Ottawa

Bike thefts spiking during COVID-19 pandemic, police warn

The force's break and enter unit says it's seen a spike in thefts from sheds, garages and the storage areas of residential buildings.

Tips include buying a high-quality lock, registering bikes on apps

Police are warning cyclists and homeowners to take extra precautions after a spike in bike thefts from seemingly secure locations. The CBC’s Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco reports. 2:14

Ottawa police are warning cyclists and homeowners to take extra precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a spike in brazen thefts from seemingly secure locations.

The force's break and enter unit says it's seen a sharp rise in bicycle thefts from sheds, garages and the storage areas of residential buildings — and one of those victims is Brendan Devlin.

Devlin has been part of the Great Cycling Challenge every summer for about the past five years, raising money for kids fighting cancer with every kilometre he cycles.

Last month, his daily training came to an abrupt stop when he discovered his expensive road bike had been stolen from the secure garage of his New Edinburgh condo building. 

"I actually felt like I was violated. I was really upset," said Devlin, who discovered his lock had been cut. "[I felt] angry, frustrated, a little stunned as well because I live in a secure building."

His garage is only accessible with a fob, code or key. His street is tucked away from the main roads, and there are video cameras everywhere — which managed to catch the thief in the act. 

"[It wasn't] easy to watch. I know it's only a bike, but still, it was my bike," said Devlin, who's now submitted the video to police in the hopes the suspect will be found.

Ottawa police have issued a number of tips to bike owners as thefts of bicycles and other non-violent crimes have risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Not just bikes

Ottawa Police Service figures from the first six weeks of the pandemic show commercial break-and-enters were up 71 per cent over the same time last year, and the trend seems to be moving to residential properties as well.

Police say it's not just bikes thieves are after, but anything of value. Non-violent crimes in general have spiked during the pandemic, the force says, as thieves have more time on their hands to find innovative ways to get into normally safe spots like garages.

In west Ottawa, some homeowners have noticed another trend: would-be criminals walking right into homes, claiming to be looking for lost pets. 

"There's been chases through the neighbourhood," said Westboro resident Alecia O'Brien. "It usually starts with the cars being broken into, or someone walking into the house pretending that they've lost a cat. Then they quickly get rushed out."

Brendan Devlin says he felt 'violated' when he learned someone had broken into the secure garage of his New Edinburgh condo and swiped his expensive road bike. (CBC)

O'Brien said she's learned her lesson after her bikes were stolen last year, and now never leaves the garage doors open.

She's installed security systems that require codes, and also locks every door in the home, even when she and her husband are working inside. 

Her neighbours have started Facebook groups that include a local police officer. 

"We know it's happening. We see them on our streets, we hear about it on our Facebook groups," said O'Brien. "So, yeah, we're taking extra measures now."

Police say it's important to be vigilant and take extra precautions for keeping valuables safe. For cyclists, their tips include:

  • Investing in a high-quality lock and using it to secure the bike's frame, not just the wheel.
  • Recording the bicycle's make, model and serial number and keeping that information in a safe place with a photo of the bike.
  • Registering your bike on an app like 529 Garage.

Devlin said he's learned his lesson. He's got a new bike, a better lock, and vows to continue on with his fundraising goals. 

After all, he says, he's got a 1,234-kilometre commitment to kids fighting cancer.

"They motivate me so much. They're so strong. They're brave," said Devlin. "We complain on a daily basis, 'I got my bike stolen.' OK, yes, it's sad, but when you see what these kids and their families have gone through, it pales in comparison."

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