Arrest made in string of bike thefts

by Beacon Staff • September 27, 2011

strongXakota Espinoza, Beacon Staff/strong

Emerson College Police Department arrested a man after he was caught allegedly attempting to steal a bike from inside the college’s storage room located at 19 Boylston Pl. Wednesday afternoon.

Lt. Eric Schiazza said officers were notified after a student noticed a suspicious man entering the room without tapping an ID card. According to Schiazza, the student reported the man to Hanane Boumkar, a Securitas officer who was stationed at 25 Boylston Pl. Boumkar then called ECPD who reported to the scene immediately, arriving just as 51-year-old Vernada Smith was in the process of allegedly stealing a bike.

Schiazza said Smith, a resident of Quincy, was found in possession of bolt cutters, which he used to break the lock in order to free the bike.

According to the ECPD, Smith initially claimed to own the bicycle, but after tracing its registration number, officers quickly determined that the two-wheeler did not in fact belong to him.

“He knew he was caught,” said Schiazza. “He put his hands behind his back.”

Officer Erik Tebeau made the arrest, but — because ECPD does not have a holding cell —Boston Police Department transported Smith to a local station for booking, holding, and arraignment.

A Boston Police spokesman declined to comment.

Schiazza said Smith will be charged with felony larceny because the bike is valued at more than $500 dollars. Under Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 266, Section 30, a person charged with larceny faces a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine as high as $25,000 dollars.

This would have been the seventh bike stolen on Emerson’s campus in the past few months, with two bikes having been stolen in the past week alone.

Deputy Chief Scott Bornstein of ECPD said that Smith matched one of the descriptions of past suspects. But Schiazza said he doesn’t think Smith is responsible for all of the thefts.

“Usually [bike thieves] work in teams,” he said.

Schiazza said that with the recent increase in bike thefts, ECPD has implemented measures to try and catch those involved by posting warning bulletins throughout campus and directing officers dressed in plain clothes to patrol the area and be on the lookout for suspicious activity.

“This was the first theft inside the actual bike room,” said Schiazza, adding that the room is equipped with two cameras and a panic button.

Senior Ariel Knoebel, who rides her bike to school, said that after seeing the warning signs around campus, she made a point to lock her bike in 19 Boylston Pl., thinking it would be safe.

“I think it’s really great that they took it upon themselves to take that extra step,” referring to the undercover officer, the interdisciplinary studies major said. “It makes me feel cared for.”

Knoebel said that while she’s comforted by the fact that an arrest has been made, she’s worried that Emerson has become a target for bike theft, and agrees with Schiazza that Smith is not the only culprit.

“It makes me feel better [that Smith was arrested], but I don’t think he’s the only one,” she said.

Schiazza said that despite the arrest, ECPD still plans to have officers in street-wear monitoring the areas where students store their bicycles.

“When there’s cooperation between students, ECPD, and Securitas, good things happen,” he said.

emEspinoza can be reached at xakota_espinoza@emerson.edu. Follow her on Twitter @xakotaesp/em