Over the last several years, more and more electric scooters have appeared on the streets of Los Angeles. As the environmentally friendly mobile devices become ubiquitous for short commutes, so do crimes involving them—mainly theft.
According to publicly available Los Angeles Police Department data, from Jan. 1–Nov. 20 there were 539 crimes involving motorized vehicles in the city (the department counts motorized bicycles and wheelchairs in its tally; further breakdowns are not available). That is a 129% increase over the 235 reports made in the entirety of last year.
University Park, which contains the University of Southern California campus, has been the epicenter of e-scooter crimes in the city of Los Angeles, with 156 incidents from Jan. 1–Nov. 20. That represents 29% of total reports.
The second most-impacted community this year was Venice, which recorded 54 crimes.
University Park has experienced the sharpest rise in crimes, though it is not the only neighborhood seeing an increase. Several communities near the UCLA campus, including Palms, Sawtelle and Westwood, have seen a measured uptick.
While e-scooter crimes have shot up in Los Angeles, they vary heavily by city across the county. That is partly because devices are not permitted in all municipalities.
“You cannot ride or park within the boundaries of Beverly Hills,” said Maylin Tu, a journalist based in Los Angeles who writes about scooters, bikes and other micro-mobility topics. “Culver City, Santa Monica, the city of L.A., they have separate regulations.”
Owning the device
Branded scooters from Bird, Lime and other operators are visible on streets throughout the city of Los Angeles. But most thefts involve individual property. According to police data, only 29 crime reports filed this year involved a company-owned device.
This is likely because of stringent security measures on company-owned devices. Adan Aceves, a fleet manager for Bird, said their scooters have an “anti-theft encryption” function.
He added that the company has ways to track scooters, including via GPS. He stated, “Also, the Bird battery has a system that you can’t use that battery unless it’s hooked up to a ‘Bird brain’ that controls a scooter.”
Aceves also said that e-scooter companies are going after thieves more than in the past, though he did not reveal specifics.
The spike in incidents in University Park makes sense given the growing popularity of e-scooters among students, and the full resumption of classes after the pandemic limited in-person activity.
“We have seen over a 400% increase in the number of e-scooters stolen in 2022 versus 2021,” said David Carlisle, the interim executive director/chief of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) at the University of Southern California.
Carlisle said that most scooters were taken from the campus itself, and that the DPS has identified so-called “hotspots” where thefts are rampant. Those include residence halls, the bookstore, sports and athletic facilities, and campus libraries.
Carlisle said the DPS has responded by deploying bicycle patrols and watching the hotspots on surveillance cameras. He added that the department is working with the LAPD on strategies to combat the thefts.
Dr. Erroll Southers, the university’s associate senior vice president of safety and risk assurance, noted that scooter theft is growing in sophistication, and that there is an end-purpose for thieves.
“There seems to be a business out there for people who are stealing them and then repurposing and reselling them,” said Southers. “It’s becoming a very interesting business transaction for thieves who are able to take these.”
Aceves also points to the challenge of a secondary market, saying, “The bigger problem we’re having right now is a lot of scooters are being stolen and taken to Mexico.”
It is not a situation unique to Los Angeles, either. In July, dozens of e-scooters were stolen from a store in SoHo in New York City. College students at Miami University in Ohio have recently experienced a surge in thefts of electric scooters and bicycles.
Lock and register
According to LAPD data, 51 devices in the city of Los Angeles this year were stolen when locks were cut. While that is a significant number, many more devices without a lock were taken.
Carlisle hopes that scooter owners will do what they can to deter theft.
“What we want students to do is to help us reduce the number of scooters stolen by buying a quality U-type lock and locking them securely in a bicycle rack,” said Carlisle. “Cable locks are not effective, and inexpensive locks are not effective because the thieves have been carrying bolt cutters that allow them to cut off the lock.”
DPS also asks students to register their e-scooter with the department. That makes it easy to identify the owner if a missing or stolen device is recovered. The service is free and registration can be done online.
How we did it: We examined publicly available theft data from the Los Angeles Police Department from Jan. 1, 2018–Nov. 20, 2022.
LAPD data only reflects crimes that are reported to the department, not how many crimes actually occurred. In making our calculations, we rely on the data the LAPD makes publicly available. LAPD may update past crime reports with new information, or recategorize past reports. Those revised reports do not always automatically become part of the public database.
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