Immediate fines for bicycle thief caught in the act

Immediate fines for bicycle thief caught in the act
Bicycles parked in Antwerp. Credit: The Brussels Times / Helen Lyons

The police will be able to give every thief they caught red-handed stealing a bicycle a fine of €250 on the spot, starting from 1 January 2022.

The new policy aims to ensure more action is taking against this type of theft because currently, the judiciary does not systematically act against them despite at least 230 bicycles being stolen per day, as more serious forms of crime are prioritised.

"Bicycle theft is one of the most exasperating phenomena on record. With this tit-for-tat fine system, we act quickly and resolutely," said Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, who announced the new rule on Sunday.

"In this way, the judiciary takes its responsibility against this so-called petty crime that has a big impact on the citizen," he added.

Often, because the crime is not taken seriously on a judicial level and due to the fact that, in most cases, no further action is taken, few citizens report the crime - it is estimated that only a third of bicycle thefts are reported, or approximately 30,000 official reports annually.

This leads to the creation of a vicious circle, as the lack of reports results in a lack of motivation from the police to seek out bicycle thieves, according to Van Quickenborne.

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Alongside paying the €250 fine, of which the cost will be collected on the spot via Bancontact, a QR code or bank transfer, the thief will, of course, also have to return the bike and pay for any damage.

As, under the current system, the police first have to question the suspect when caught red-handed, after which the public prosecutor starts the prosecution, this system will result in "petty" crimes being punished quickly without overburdening the police and the judiciary.

Repeat offenders and organised gangs will not receive any lump-sum fines. Instead, because of the seriousness of the facts, they will be prosecuted and appear in court.

Part of a bigger plan

Combatting bicycle theft was also one of the key priorities set out in Belgium’s first-ever country-wide bicycle plan titled "Be Cyclist," which the federal government revealed last week, and which aims to increase cycling across the country.

Several of the 52 different measures included in the plan aim to tackle the issue of bicycle theft, which particularly affects Brussels' residents.

"If your bike is stolen, it is a major setback and it can cost you a lot," said Minister of Mobility Georges Gilkinet.

Belgium's bicycle plan itself also ties into other plans regarding the reduction of CO2 emissions, and the European “Fit for 55” initiative and a federal bicycle commission will be established in order to coordinate the cooperation with the regional authorities, as they oversee changes that relate to bicycle infrastructure.

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