In a publication released by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (www.cops.usdoj.gov), bicycle theft is typically seen as a low police priority, its impact and magnitude often overlooked because police often consider incidents on a case-by-case basis. In this same publication, COPS acknowledges that this picture is often misleading and when viewed at the aggregate level, bicycle theft represents a much larger problem, one with harmful economic and societal effects that warrant greater police attention.
According to the COPS report, several studies suggest that fear of cycle theft may discourage bicycle use, and that many bicycle theft victims do not buy a replacement. Combating bicycle theft, therefore, is a necessary step toward increasing the use of this sustainable form of transport, an increase that unexpectedly may also improve cyclist safety. To elaborate, a recent international review of programs to encourage walking and cycling found strong evidence indicating that as the number of cyclists and walkers increased, the frequency of collisions between those groups and motorists actually decreased. The authors concluded that an effective means of improving the safety of cyclists and walkers is therefore to increase the numbers of people cycling and walking. Despite this, little attention has been paid to the prevention of bicycle theft. Car theft has received much more attention, for example, yet according to data collected as part of the International Crime Victim Survey, for all countries for which data were available (including the United States), bicycle owners are far more likely to have their bikes stolen (4.7 percent) than car owners their cars (1.2 percent) and motorcyclists their motorcycles (1.9 percent). See https://cops.usdoj.gov/RIC/Publications/cops-p141-pub.pdf
When reading the reports released by COPS, as the report admits, understanding the problem of bicycle theft is hampered because police data typically under represent the problem. The COPS reports states that this fact is illustrated by data from the International Crime Victim Survey (2000), which show that across the 17 countries surveyed (including the United States), on average only 56 percent of bicycle thefts were reported to the police. U.S. crime statistics are collated using both National Crime Victim Survey (NCVS) data from a yearly national survey, and data recorded by the police. Comparing the two data sources highlights the problem of underreporting. For example, in 2004, bicycle theft accounted for 3.6 percent of all incidents of larceny (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2005), which equates to more than 250,000 bicycles stolen each year. According to an estimate from the NCVS, in 2006 the number of incidents of theft-of or theft-from bicycles was more like 1.3 million (just under 2.5 incidents per minute). This suggests that for every crime reported, another four (or more) may have occurred.