1. ITV Report

They're watching you: Newcastle University cracks down on bicycle thieves

The new scheme has been a success so far at deterring thieves Photo: ITV News

With its main campus based in the heart of the city, the bicycle is the preferred mode of transport for many students at Newcastle University.

On most days there are hundreds of bikes chained up outside faculty buildings and they have become a target for opportunist thieves.

However, such crime has been significantly reduced thanks to new research by the university's Centre for Behaviour and Evolution - and the solution is brilliant in its simplicity.

The research team found that by placing pictures of staring eyes above bike racks less bikes were stolen.

In a two year experiment on the university campus, the academics managed to reduce thefts from the racks with the eye pictures, combined with a short anti-theft message, by 62%.

There was also a noticeable difference in places without the signs, where bike theft went up by 63%, suggesting that the crime had been displaced to other locations, rather than eliminated.

“We don’t know exactly what is happening here but this just adds to the growing evidence that images of eyes can have a big impact on behaviour.

“We think that the presence of eye images can encourage co-operative behaviour. One strong possibility is that the images of eyes work by making people feel watched. We care what other people think about us, and as a result we behave better when we feel we are being observed.

“The next step would be to increase the scope of the experiment across a citywide area to see if the effect is maintained, but the pattern definitely looks like it is worth exploring further.”

– Professor Daniel Nettle, Lead author of the paper
Hundreds of students rack up their bikes every day on campus Credit: ITV News

But, the academics were not working alone - in fact the idea to widen their initial study to this large scale trial came from university security guard Ken Nott.

“Anything we can do to reduce the level of theft on the campus is very welcome.

"I had followed previous work done by this team and thought it might be able to make a difference to levels of crime, so I decided to suggest this experiment.

"The results were clear and we have now put these pictures up across all the bike racks on the campus.”

– Ken Nott, Deputy Team Leader for security in the Estates Security Service at Newcastle University

The findings have already led to changes on the Newcastle University campus and the team are working with police across the country to advise them on how they may be able to use the research.