Does Chico Have A Higher Rate Of Bike Theft Than Other Towns? Is Proposition 47 Really To Blame?

Aug 8, 2018

This bike's owner has used two locks to secure it for the day. Last year 390 bikes were stolen in Chico, which was more than in most similar-sized cities in California.
Credit Andrew Baumgartner

This question comes from Mary Vanneman of Chico. Mary loves to ride her bike and in a city like Chico which caters to this lifestyle, why wouldn’t you? But this bicyclist’s utopia isn’t perfect, with a lot of bikes in the area there is bound to be bike theft.

According to Mary there seems to be a perception that bike theft is more common in Chico than other towns. To find out if this is true I reached out to Sergeant Cesar Sandoval who is on the community outreach team for the Chico Police Department.

“In 2017 we had 390 stolen in Chico,” Sandoval said. “I reached out to Davis PD and in 2017, they had 404 reported bikes stolen, so we’re right in line with other cities that have a similar dynamic as we do.”

Davis is similar to Chico in that it’s a bike friendly college town. But how many bikes are stolen from local towns that don’t share that similar dynamic? A city like Redding perhaps, which is similar in size to Chico, but not considered particularly bike friendly.

To get a perspective on bike theft in Redding I contacted Detective Wesley Townsley of the Redding Police Department.

“We had 102 bicycles stolen last year in Redding, and these are just calls for just bicycles stolen,” Townsley said.

That’s right, only 102 bikes were stolen in Redding in 2017. Chico and Davis have smaller populations compared to Redding, but they have more reported bicycle thefts.

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Another North State city I was curious about was Yuba City. Last year they only had 116 bikes reported stolen. Other towns like San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara are considered biking communities – and had similar numbers to each other, but still had fewer reported bike thefts than Chico. San Luis Obispo had 252, while Santa Barbara had 251. 

With all of this information we can make the conclusion that Chico does indeed have a higher rate of bike theft than other towns.

Now to look into the second part of the question – is proposition 47 really to blame for Chico’s high rate of bike theft? To answer this question we must go back to the year 2014 when the proposition passed and see what it did to California.

Also called the ‘Reduced Penalties for Some Crimes Initiative’, Prop 47 in simple terms made some nonviolent and nonserious crimes misdemeanors instead of felonies. These crimes included property and drug crimes. This allowed many people in prison to seek re-sentencing. The point of the proposition was to help California save money by reducing the state’s prison population.

Everyone I talked to had an opinion on Prop 47 and its impact on the community.

Sergeant Sandoval said he believes Prop 47 has caused an increase in bike theft in Chico.

“Yeah, I mean anytime that you have propositions like that, that pass and people aren't being held, the accountability is not there like it used to be the odds that someone is going to go out and commit a crime is probably better than before,” Sandoval said.

Over at the Redding Police Department Detective Townsley said something different.

“No, I don’t think it changes it at all. I think bike theft, just because of the large size of our city, these bad guys are always looking for an easy mode of transportation, they’re obviously not going to buy anything because most of them don’t want to work a job and buy their own stuff,” Townsley said. “I don’t think that affects it, I think it’s going to be a consistent problem that we run into.”

Some of the data recently released by the Public Policy Institute of California on Proposition 47's impact on crime and recidivism.
Credit Image used courtesy of the Public Policy Institute of California

To try to find these kind of numbers to see if Prop 47 was causing bike thefts to rise in Chico I contacted Charis E. Kubrin a professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine.

Professor Kubrin and law student Bradley Bartos produced the first research done about Prop 47’s relationship to crime in California. The process they used is a little difficult to understand, but Kubrin was willing to explain.

“We basically looked at the impact of Prop 47 on crime statewide in the year following Prop 47’s enactment,” Kubrin said. “We chose 2015 because that is the year that we did, in fact see some uptick in crime statewide.”

Since crime went up initially after the proposition passed it was the best time to see if Prop 47 was to blame. There are also a lot of different factors to consider when doing research on this type of legislation Kubrin said.

“It’s very difficult to actually isolate the effect of a policy, like one factor on crime, because there are so many things happening simultaneously so you need to use these kinds of methods and these methods are not always digestible,” Kubrin said.

She said she had a lot of confidence in the methods that she used in her research because they allowed her team to really isolate the casual impact of Prop 47.

Her conclusion? Well, there is no direct answer for bike theft in Chico.

“If I were to make a hunch, what I would say is that our findings suggest that it’s unlikely that it’s Prop 47 because we found that for the state as a whole,” Kubrin said. “I can’t say 100 percent not Prop 47 because we studied the state, we studied 2015 and we studied a myriad of crimes. If I were betting based on the average that the state holds I would say it’s not likely that it would be Prop 47, it may be something else.”

Many people have opinions about whether or not Proposition 47 increased crimes like bicycle theft in California, but the data that's currently out there is conflicting and there's just too little of it to really draw a conclusion.
Credit Andrew Baumgartner

So according to Professor Kubrin it most likely isn’t Prop 47 causing the high rates of bicycle theft in Chico, but again there also isn’t real proof that Prop 47 isn’t causing it.

Although data is limited, I was able to find one more expert on Prop 47 to get a second opinion. Mia Bird is a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California.

She and her colleagues at the PPIC just released a report on Prop 47’s impact on crime and recidivism.

In regards to bike theft, their conclusions were a little different from Kubrin’s.

“Well, what we found is that after Prop 47 we saw an increase in property crime and specifically larceny. So larcenies include things like thefts from motor vehicles, purse snatching, shoplifting, and may also include bike theft,” Bird said. “We found that those offenses, those crimes have gone up and we attribute that to Prop 47.”

So according to Bird initially after Prop 47 passed there was an increase in larceny that was attributed to Prop 47, but according to the report, property crime is also on the way down.

It’s also important to note that motor vehicle thefts and shoplifting were the main reason larcenies rose immediately after Prop 47.

So Mary, we can say that there is more bike theft in Chico than other towns, but as for whether or not Prop 47 is to blame, that’s hard to answer. It looks as though it’s unlikely, but right now the current data is conflicting and there’s simply just too little of it to really tell. 

This episode featured original music by Michael Lee.

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