MBTA bicycle thefts down thanks to cardboard transit officer

Transit Police have been using a cut out of a Tranist Police Officer to deter bike theft at the bike cage at Alewfie Station. PHOTO BY NICOLAUS CZARNECKI/METRO
Transit Police have been using a cutout of an officer to deter theft at the Alewife station bike cage. Credit: Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

We’ve all heard of RoboCop, but CardboCop is the one Cambridge cyclists should be praising.

Bicycle thefts at Alewife Station have plummeted since MBTA Transit Police erected two life-size cutouts at the T stop’s bike racks. 

The MBTA put up the poster board scarecrow July 5 in an effort to deter thieves from treating themselves to transit customers’ bikes, as the station is a notorious hotspot for thieves.

Since then, bike larcenies have dropped by 67 percent compared to the same period last year. Police believe psychology is behind CardboCop’s success. Six bikes were stolen between July and August last year, but just two were stolen during the same period this year.

“I think it’s our inner conscience. Even though they know that it’s not a real cop, there is some psychology at work. People realize it’s a cutout, but there is still a set of eyes in a blue uniform,” Transit Police Deputy Chief Robert Lenehan said Monday.

The faux officer is a photograph of in-the-flesh Transit Officer David Silen, who volunteered his image for the experiment.

MBTA officers got the idea for the standies after learning that law enforcement agencies around the world were putting them to use. If the cutouts offer long-term deterrence, the T will consider placing them throughout the system.

“We want to look at trying it out at other high bike theft locations, and there are certain stations that we are constantly getting complaints about quality of life crimes like fare evasion and smoking. We may try [cutouts] out there,” Lenehan said.

There were 15 bike larcenies at Alewife between January 2012 and August 2012. This year, there have been seven: a 53 percent decrease. Transit police attribute that decline to increased patrols in the area.

Follow Morgan Rousseau on Twitter: @MetroMorgan
Follow Metro Boston on Twitter: @MetroBOS


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