Bicycle thieves target student workers

Jordan Swanson
Dozens of bikes like this one were provided to area foreign student workers at a Destin United Methodist Church supper.

Bicycle theft is a crime of opportunity. And that opportunity looms large for thieves targeting Destin’s foreign student workers.

According to the IT Department at the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, there have been 79 stolen bicycles in Okaloosa County between March 1 and Sept. 26 of this year. The number of bicycle thefts in Destin during those months was 18.

But Cindy Wilson, who heads Others First Team outreach at Destin United Methodist Church, worries those statistics may not paint the whole picture. Wilson and the church hosted regular church suppers for the city’s many J-1 visa holding student workers. At the first dinner. the church gave away more than 70 bikes, locks, helmets and lights to the young adults who often rely on bicycle transportation to get to and from work.

“I received many calls from students whose bikes were stolen, asking for replacements. We found one of our bikes in the woods behind Winn-Dixie; I found an abandoned bike at the track by the elementary school,” Wilson said. “Generally, their bikes were stolen from their work location. Some were stolen from the driveway of their home.”

“I do know of one of the Chinese students who called 911 to report her bike stolen from her driveway when she located it at Big Kahunas — where she happened to work,” Wilson continued. “Sadly, it was stolen by another J-1 student.”

Of the 79 bikes stolen in Okaloosa County, 15 were recovered. But many more are never found.

“One evening I had two students frantically call me because their bikes were stolen from the Lighthouse restaurant,” she said.

The bikes, which were locked up at the time they were stolen, were later recovered in an empty lot behind some bushes and the other not too far from the first.

The news of the thefts has even reached Fort Walton Beach.

“I heard about it being a problem in Destin and Fort Walton,” said Mike Morris, manager at Bob’s Bicycles in Fort Walton Beach.

And while J-1 students may be an easy target, the age range of victims of these thefts is 16 to 79 years, according to number crunchers at the Sheriff’s Office.

A couple of years ago, Morris’s mother, who lives in Destin, had her tricycle stolen from the front area outside of her home.

He said bicycle theft is often a crime of “opportunity.” Oftentimes, he says, bike thieves take the bicycle from its location just to ride it to where they need to go across town and then dump it.

“The general thing that we hear is they think ‘I’m just running into a store for a second’ or they’ll leave it in front of their house for just a second, and that’s all it takes,” said Morris

He said that thieves can quickly cut cable locks with bolt cutters.

“Unless you get a really heavy duty lock, inside is the best bet,” he added.

But even that isn’t a sure thing.

Morris says they’ve heard stories from customers about bicycles being stolen out of garages when the residents are home. Two of Morris’s customers have even claimed to have more than one bicycle stolen in this manner.

“We hear it way too much,” he said.

Bob’s Bicycles can provide its customers with several grades of bicycle locks with different security ratings. They can also order other options.

“Most bikes nowadays have quick-release wheels,” Morris said, which makes them easier for thieves to steal.

“The best thing to do is to try and get both wheels and the frame locked up,” said Morris. “If your seat post goes into the frame — if it’s got a quick release, you can either have it changed out to something that’s bolted or get a little tiny lock that’ll run through there.”

And with the string of thefts this year, even the church is taking more precautions to safeguard their bikes

“Next year we plan on numbering the bikes, so that when we find them abandoned we will know who to return them to,” Wilson added.


Destin United Methodist Church is collecting bikes and refurbishing and repairing them for use in their J-1 student outreach ministries for when the students return in the spring of 2013. Bikes can be donated to the church at 200 Beach Drive.  

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