Video of bike theft in downtown Toronto has police saying, 'Here we go again'
Reports of stolen bikes have increased every year since 2014, police stats show
A video that shows a thief using a power tool in broad daylight to cut open a bike lock in Toronto's financial district last month has garnered thousands of views online, and police say it underscores a bike-theft problem that's plagued the city for years.
Ben James, a 34-year-old recruiter for an IT company, says he took his bike to the gym on his lunch hour on Aug. 23, and locked it up. When he came back at the end of his work day to ride it home, it was gone.
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"I thought it was pretty safe being here in the financial district and I was really blown away that someone would have the balls to come down and steal it," James said.
He's not alone — between 2014 and 2018 there were close to 18,000 reports of stolen bikes in the city, according to Toronto Police data, and police say it's not the first time a video like this has surfaced on social media.
A cabbie waiting for a customer at the Sheraton Hotel at York and Richmond streets shot the video of the suspect in action. He found James and showed him the video. It's been viewed more than 15,000 times on Twitter.
"Everyone's had their bike stolen or something stolen from them. To actually see how it happens and how it goes down in a spot like this, I think everyone kind of relates to it," James said.
Moe Khan, the part time Toronto taxi driver who shot the video, said he still can't believe what he saw.
"I heard a sound that wasn't normal, and I saw a guy cutting the lock," Khan said.
It all happened just a few metres away from him.
"I was so fascinated that it only took about 20 seconds."
Khan added he was a little shaken after the man caught him filming and started yelling and swearing at him, but after having his bike stolen in the past, he felt it was important to catch the man in the act.
"I didn't know Ben but I thought, 'This is someone else's bike, why are you taking it?'"
Bike theft numbers steadily rising
Const. Scott Mills with the Toronto Police Service says there hasn't been a sharp rise in bike thefts in the city in the last two years but it's still a huge problem.
Police data shows the number of bike thefts has increased every year from 2014 to 2018. In 2018, there were 3,937 thefts reported. Police could not immediately provide data from 2019 to CBC Toronto.
Only a small percentage are recovered. Mills insists that a lot of time and resources are dedicated to recovering stolen bikes.
"Any video of somebody's bicycle getting stolen here really bothers me," Mills said.
The social media officer says he comes across dozens of bike theft videos online, including this one.
"My initial thoughts were, 'Here we go again,'" he said. "My job is to get that video, try to get it to an investigator and marry it with a report."
While the video evidence is useful for the investigation and has resulted in bikes being returned to their owners, Mills recommends calling 911 before taking a video.
"And if you are going to take a video, do it safely," he said.
The officer also recommends registering your bike online with Toronto Police, and keeping a record of your bike's make and serial number.
Mills says even though the numbers aren't improving, it's still a priority for police.
"The vast majority of the 1,000 bicycles that we have on our property lockup are seized from investigations," he said.
"We do care. We do take it seriously."