Gulfport is a city that can be very bike friendly; it is compact and accommodating to get around on two wheels. Residents and visitors frequently take advantage of its accessibility; even Gulfport’s Municipal Marina offers loaner bikes for overnight stays.
Unfortunately, with the number of bicycles in and around Gulfport, there is always the opportunity for bike theft.
Philip Penrose lives at the Town Shores community off 58th Avenue South. He had his 21-speed Trek stolen about three weeks ago. The thieves appeared to be extremely blatant about their crime since, according to Penrose, the carport where he locked his bike was lighted; he assumed the bike was safe.
“I had it locked to a pole under one of the carports,” said Penrose. “Town Shores at night is pretty well lit. Whoever did it—and I checked at night—was standing in the light.”
The thieves have not yet been caught or identified, but they also left something behind.
“Someone stole my bike and actually left me the bike they were unhappy with. Mine was a nice bike, certainly nicer than the one he left me with.” Penrose said,
Since a bike was left behind, Penrose reported the crime to the Gulfport Police Department. He found there were similar thefts in the complex.
“The officer said another bike had been stolen from under the same carport the week before,” Penrose said.
Penrose owns Computer Services, Etc., providing in-home computer repair, service and tutoring. His occupation has Penrose working all-around Gulfport, so he started talking to neighbors and customers about his stolen bike.
“I heard there were several thefts in Town Shores in the past few weeks,” Penrose said. “I also heard from people around town there was a lot going on, a lot of bicycle thefts, not just in Town Shores, but Gulfport in general.”
Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent said a spike in bike thefts is to be expected this time of year.
“It’s a typical summer trend,” Vincent said. “Trouble for us is that almost every one (of the stolen bikes) was unsecured.”
“It’s almost as if we are a victim of our own success,” Vincent said. “People feel safe enough that they don’t have to lock their things up and then the things disappear.”
In 2011, Gulfport had 545 property crimes, including 117 burglaries. Vincent said that due to FBI crime reporting rules, bike thefts cannot be put in a separate category, and must be labeled as burglaries if stolen from a porch or garage.
Town Shores of Gulfport is a large residential complex on Boca Ciega Bay, with 19 buildings, 28 boat slips, a poker room and auditorium. The facility also employs security guards, but with the size of the complex, it can be a challenge to keep eyes everywhere.
“There is security, but it’s a roving security guy who checks around in a golf cart,” Penrose said. “You have all the buildings and the grounds, so it’s tough.”
Michelle Bushoven, sales manager at ABC Bicycles at 6633 Central Ave. in St Petersburg, said that the best protection for bikes is to keep them indoors. The sea air and humidity can also be tough on them.
However, Bushoven said, if a bike must be stored outside, there are some positive ways to keep it safe. U-Locks are tough, u-shaped security devices, which attach a bike to a pole, bike rack or anywhere to stay in place.
“The toughest lock you are going to get is a U-Lock,” Bushoven said. “There are very large chains also available. A lot of U-Lock manufacturers have antitheft clauses, should you choose to sign up with them.”
“They really back up their products,” she added.
U-Locks are affordable protection and can vary from $20 to more than $100, depending on shackle length and strength. An owner locks the bike, with a strong lock and possibly some chains, and it gives an expression of security; potential thieves may think twice about stealing that bike.
“The more you lock it up and the more it’s locked up tight,” Bushoven said, “it tends to make people go the other way, if it’s difficult to get in to it.”
Vincent agreed the best way to secure a bike is to keep it indoors, or at least when outside lock it carefully with a steel cable lock. He added that Gulfport also offers a registration service, to help identify stolen bikes. Last year, the City of Gulfport had 233 bike registrations.
“We stop a lot of people on bicycles,” Vincent said. “And if a bicycle we see is registered, and it is yours, we can get it back to you.”
Penrose is aware of safety concerns when it comes to bicycles, since now he is a victim of theft.
“I know if I get another bike,” Penrose said, “I’m not going to lock it to a pole. I’m going to bring it inside. I know now that a locked bike is no guarantee it’s going to stay.”
“I did have a customer offer me a bicycle that was not being used anymore,” he added. “So I might take her up on it.”