School officials, students address frustrations, offer insight on persistent campus bike thefts


When freshman Jasper van den Bedem went to retrieve his bike after the Homecoming Dance, the only thing waiting for him in the bike cage was his U-lock—left on the ground in two pieces. Then, just one week later, van den Bedem fell victim to a second bike theft. This time, it was his wire combination lock that had been cut in half.

According to Campus Supervisor Jorge Sanchez, bike thefts occur most frequently during the night, when thieves come equipped with tools such as bolt cutters and grinders designed to cut through all types of bike locks. “People are coming in (at) one in the morning and taking bikes,” he said. “Sometimes we get about three (bike theft) reports from people who left their bikes overnight.”

These bike thieves are meticulous with not only their timing, but also their choice of location. According to Assistant Principal Harvey Newland, individuals target Palo Alto schools because there are multiple campuses in close proximity to each other, making it easier to steal from several locations in one trip. “Recently, there (have) been a lot of thieves that come to Stanford’s, Paly’s and Gunn’s campuses—and they’re looking for bikes,” he said. “It’s become this dark business.”

Sometimes, however, students are the ones taking the bikes. “Some students, if they have a prep, take random bikes,” van den Bedem said.

According to Sanchez, many students take unlocked bikes to go off campus during lunch. Because they are afraid of being caught, students throw their stolen bikes into the bushes or leave them across campus where campus supervisors then discover them. “If you go (on campus) during lunch or before lunch, you will see that throughout the campus there are bikes laying around,” Sanchez said. “Last time (we checked after lunch), we picked up about 45 unlocked bikes on campus.”

Although van den Bedem frequently hears of bike thefts around campus at Gunn, he never experienced this concern during his time at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. “At JLS, there were big fences around all the bike cages which were locked during school (hours),” he said. “It helped a lot because I didn’t hear of a single person who got their bike stolen.”

Similar efforts have been attempted at Gunn: In previous years, entire bike cages were locked for safety reasons during school hours. This implementation, however, was not permanent because it presented a new set of issues. “Because we have an open campus and students can come and go at different times, it makes it almost impossible to have a locked cage,” Newland said. “It’d be different if you were in middle school, where you had to be on campus the whole time.”

Despite this, there are many other resources on campus to prevent bike thefts. For example, surveillance cameras stationed around all bike cages make it possible to identify the culprit after a bike theft is reported.

In addition, there are also measures targeted toward students, reminding them of bike safety rules. “The PTSA has been really good about putting signs and big boards that say, ‘Don’t leave bikes overnight’ in bike locations,” Sanchez said.

None of these resources, however, helped freshman Lena Duggan, who got her bike stolen in December. She had secured her bike in the cages adjacent to Bow Gym with a chain lock before attending basketball practice. After a few hours, she returned to find that her bike had been stolen, but chose not to alert anyone of the incident. “I didn’t report it because I don’t think my bike would’ve been found even if they knew,” she said.

That being said, Sanchez stresses the importance of always reporting bike thefts, and doing it as soon as possible to maximize the chances of finding the bike. “Palo Alto has a lot of containers for stolen bikes,” he said. “Two or three containers full of bikes haven’t been returned to their owners because they didn’t report (the bike theft) right away and didn’t get a hold of the police department.”

In addition to reporting bike thefts, Sanchez also recommends that all students locate their bike’s Vehicle Identification Number, a serial number typically found in-between the pedals. “There’s no other number like the VIN number on your bicycle, or on any other bicycle,” he said. “If you get the brand and the VIN number, then we can go ahead and make the police report. If the (police) find it, they’ll get ahold of you and return it to you.”