A Chicago Police (CPD) officer called me this morning to discuss my FOIA request for bike theft data. It was very revealing.
The first problem is that I forgot to ask for a time frame. No big deal, I can tell him over the phone that I want the last three full calendar years.
The second problem is that there’s not a separate code for recording bicycle thefts. It’s recorded under “Simple Theft” and as being under $300 or over $300.
Third problem is that the database front end (the graphical interface that allows officers to search the reporting database) doesn’t allow him to search all of the report narratives for “bike” or “bicycle” and limit the search to “Simple Theft” in a specific time frame. Some report codes allow narrative searching, and some don’t. He said it would be impractical to search all narratives for the words “bike” or “bicycle” because a lot of reports not about theft would appear in the results.
In my last blog on the Chicago Police Department’s FOIA response (for my request about bike crashes), they explained that they don’t have to create records that don’t already exist (like a list of bike thefts). This response is identical, but they called and gave me a better explanation. The officer also said they don’t have the staff resources to spend on collating their records for bicycle theft reports. I understand this.
He also explained that reporting standards at the CPD are guided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the department’s “Incident Reporting Standards.” In the FBI’s reporting standards, there exists a line item for “bicycle theft” but it’s the same code as “simple theft.” There are separate codes for “credit card theft” and “motor vehicle theft.”
It seems the solution to the problem of obtaining records on bike theft in Chicago is to update the Incident Reporting Standards and include a new code for bike theft reports. At the end of the call, I understood that I was not going to get a list of bike theft dates and times from the police.
For now, Chicagoans should also report their bicycle theft to the Stolen Bike Registry so there’s a publicly available record of theft locations.
A Chicagoans rides his bike north on Halsted Street through University Village. If his bike is stolen, we can’t expect the Chicago Police Department to keep an easily findable report of it.