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‘Cardboard cop’ prompts real drop in crime

A cardboard cutout stands watch inside the bicycle cage at the Alewife MBTA station.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

A cardboard cutout stands watch inside the bicycle cage at the Alewife MBTA station.

Criminals beware, because there’s a new lawman in town — sort of. The MBTA Transit Police have placed a cardboard cutout of an officer in Alewife station as a deterrent to potential bike thieves. And bizarrely enough, it seems to be working.

Bicycle thefts are a real problem at large transportation hubs such as Alewife station, where commuters often park their bikes for the day before taking the T to work. But according to police officials, bike thefts at the station have dropped 67 percent since the cutout was installed on July 5. The reason for its efficacy is still unclear, but psychologists speculate that even a quick glance at an obvious cutout reminds thieves of the presence of law enforcement.

That being said, the new security cameras and bike locks installed at Alewife station might also account for the decline in criminal activity. It is hard to say whether this cutout will lead to a reduction in crime in the long term, but it shows that the transit police are willing to experiment with cost-effective alternative ways of deterring would-be thieves. Cardboard comes cheap. New bikes don’t.

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