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How are bikes stolen in Brussels?

The North Station in Brussels is a bike theft hotspot
Saskia Vanderstichele

How are bikes stolen in Brussels?

Cyclists in Brussels will be familiar with Cyclo’s
Bike Point on Level -1 in the Brussels North Station.  Here you can get your bike repaired.  Commuters often use one of the two bike stalls
here where you can leave your bike.  One is
secure and operates using a season ticket. 
The other is accessible to all.  Anybody
can enter by simply pressing a large button.

Amir works at the Bike Point.  He says there are up to three bike thefts a
day: “Every day people turn up here asking whether we have seen anything.  Sometimes the thieves operate by
themselves.  Sometimes in teams.  There are cases of a first guy slitting the
lock, a second attaching a ribbon to identify the bike and a third picking it up!
Why do they take all this trouble?  In
order not to be noticed.  There are
several CCTV cameras in the area.”

In a public area like the bike stall at the
North Station a grinding disc would attract too much attention.  So other techniques are used.  Often brute force is simply used to break the

Our colleagues at Brussels media outlet Bruzz
discovered that the North Station is a real hotpot for bike theft.  Fences operate here too.  When the team were chatting with Amir, they
noticed a group of four youngsters heading for the bike stall.  When the youngsters saw the photographer,
they turned back on their tracks.

Some places are simply more vulnerable to
bike theft than others.  Thieves love anonymous
locations, where there are long stretches of time when people are few are far between.  Here social control is low.  Train and metro stations are popular, but
also cinemas.  Bike theft is also common
in the pedestrian precincts that have increased in number in recent years.  “People pop into shops just to buy something
in a jiffy.  They don’t expect to become
the victim of theft.  They don’t take the
trouble to lock their bike properly. 
That’s when it happens” says Tijl De Groot of the Brussels/Elsene police

Most bike thieves are still making use of
an occasion:  “They strike when they see
an opportunity and will find out later how they can raise cash by selling the
bike.  Some of the thieves are drug addicts
or illegals who need to raise cash urgently”.

Organised gangs are still responsible for a
smaller share of bike thefts.  They do
however target more expensive models.  The
gangs are well organised and make sure stolen bikes are quickly transported to
other locations, preferably abroad.  They
also possess their own distribution network of fences.

Cycling is increasingly popular in Brussels

Amor Mistiaen, the manager of Velofixer-Lucien
on the Anspachlaan in the downtown, confirms this scenario: “Once online I
noticed a guy selling bikes in Barcelona (Spain).  He had thirty bikes to offer and they all had
stickers from bike shops in Brussels.  It
doesn’t take much imagination to work out what’s happening here!”

Mistiaen’s store is specialised in the more
expensive bike range.  He’s very familiar
with the phenomenon of bike theft.  It
means many bike owners take out an insurance. “We are our insurer’s best and
worst customer.  Nobody sells as many
contracts as we do, but losses are nowhere higher” explains Mistiaen.  He also provides us with a tip for owners of
cheaper models:  “Park your bike next to
an expensive one.  It will be an easy
choice for the thief”.  

Today the police response to bike theft has
improved no end.  There may have been indifference
in the past, but today there has been a shift in mentality among officers.

“The result is we are able to return quite
a few bikes” says Officer De Groot.  “Last
year, thanks to the Véloflic Facebook page we were able to return 65 bikes.  But in addition to that police in the City of
Brussels and Elsene were also able to return 200 other bikes to their
owners.  In all 1,570 bike thefts were
reported in our police zone”.

Nobody doubts the real number of bike theft
is much higher.

Police are determined to provide an even
more efficient response in future.  The
six police zones in Brussels are harmonising their approach as part of the
U-Lock Project.  The Brussels region aims
to create far more secure bike stalls often using bike boxes.

Pieterjan Desmet, spokesman for Brussels
mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt (Flemish green), explains that the
Brussels government continuously lobbies the federal justice department over
the issue of bike theft.  He says that’s
where the problem lies.

Officers at several police zones already
made it clear bike thieves have little to fear. 
Bike theft is seen as an ordinary theft and that means the culprit will
usually be asked to pay a fine.  Those
that can’t cough up, simply don’t pay. 

“This is one of the factors making bike
theft a safe business” explains officer De Groot.  “Bikes become increasingly valuable.  The risk of getting caught is small.  When it happens the penalty isn’t too bad.  That’s why I focus on the bikes I can return
to their owner.  That’s where we make

Brussels prosecutors insist considerable
effort is put into investigating bike thefts, but perpetrators are not always

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