Berlin police are testing an analysis of open data against bicycle theft

The number of bike thefts is high, but the detection rate is extremely low. German police hope open data will help prevent theft.

As part of a pilot project, Berlin police are publishing the location, date and other details of almost all bicycle thefts in the German capital on the Internet every 24 hours, said Stefan Redlich, deputy head of the State Criminal Office (LKA) via the DPA news agency. This data can then be accessed and used by anyone via the open data portal in Berlin.

“We want to challenge programmers to use this data and develop applications we haven’t even thought about. It could be an application that alerts cyclists to areas where there is a lot of theft. But perhaps other applications may emerge: status reports, dynamic developments, graphics, research, or art designs, ”Redlich said. He added that the police would like to test whether such data arouses interest and is used as open data.

Can the project show in which areas and on which days bicycles are stolen? Mostly day or night? Mostly from the street or the courtyards? Are there any noticeable accumulations or series?

The tabular data set is based on the bicycle owner’s report: date and time of theft, type of bicycle, amount of damage, information on the crime (street theft, yard theft, burglary) and the location of the crime. However, for reasons of data protection, the site will not be named with a street and house number, but only with one of the 542 so-called planning areas. These are areas defined by the Berlin administration. In the densely populated downtown, these are smaller and include only a few cross streets. They cover several square kilometers on the outskirts.

If the possible duration of the theft exceeds 72 hours, for example because the owner was on leave, the data will no longer be released. This affects about 15 percent of thefts, meaning 85 percent of them are published.

Subsequently, since January 2020, the police have posted at least 35,000 bicycle thefts on the Internet. In the future, an average of 60 thefts per day is expected to be added. For the police, this is no further effort. Data on crimes have always been recorded in the Poliks police system. The transfer to the Internet is automatic.

The topic of bicycle theft was not chosen at random for the project. The number of cyclists is growing, bicycles are becoming more expensive and thefts are difficult to solve. By 2016, the number of reports of thefts had risen to 34,500. Since then, this number has been declining despite the increase in population and number of cyclists. Last year, 27,588 thefts were reported, representing 76 cases a day. The actual number is probably much higher. Not all uninsured owners report theft.

However, claims increased from an average of € 663 in 2018 to € 799 last year. The police settlement rate has been a low 4 per cent for a long time, improving slightly to 4.7 per cent in 2020 and 5.4 per cent in the first half of 2021. Bicycles are particularly often stolen from large car parks in front of train stations, schools, sports and leisure facilities or shopping malls. Through the open data project, the police hope to be able to pay more attention to prevention as well.

During the planning process, the police consulted the Berlin Technology Foundation, which provides businesses and administrations with the information, software and infrastructure needed for digitization. “There is much more that can be done in the field of security than we have done so far. The Berlin police are definitely pioneering in this, and other cities or towns can follow,” – said Victoria Boeck is a fellow at the foundation.