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Cops sell stolen bikes on eBay

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on February 1st, 2006 at 9:44 am

A few days ago, a BikePortland.org reader noticed his stolen bike listed on Craigslist. Eager for revenge on the suspected thief he contacted the seller. Turns out the seller was a nice guy who had unknowingly bought the bike through the Police on eBay.

Turns out that the State of Oregon maintains a website at OregonSurplus.com that sells "state and federal surplus property". Here's more from their site:

"The State Surplus Property Program exists to provide a central distribution point for surplus, seized and\or recovered public property for State Agencies and political subdivisions. While emphasis is placed on reutilization of property within the public sector, the Program has received national acclaim for its innovative use of the Internet in advertising its post-reutilization property to the general public."

From that website you can click over to their eBay store where they sell seized items, including bikes found in drug busts, home foreclosures, and so on. They've got about 20 bikes listed their right now, and bidding starts at just .99 cents!

All the bikes are taken to Salem and are sometimes bundled together and sold in bulk. If your bike has been stolen and you've had no luck finding it for several weeks, you should check this store just in case.

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Comments
  • Michael February 1, 2006 at 10:02 am

    NUTS on that! Sometimes I wonder just what we are paying the police to do.

    20 years ago I had a stolen bike recovered by the police after being missing for 2 years. All the number ID had been filed off. They identified it by one unique seat post bolt that was still on the bike. That was superb service.

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  • dan February 1, 2006 at 10:27 am

    Sure seems, from this person's circumstance, that they don't check those items against stolen property reports prior to selling them. An obvious oversight given the likelihood that the people they bust for drugs etc. will have stolen property. It would be nice to know if they have an explanation--and what other cities' police are "innovating" this way for profit...

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  • Chriss Pagani February 1, 2006 at 10:30 am

    Apparently they make no effort to reunite property with its rightful owner. Well, they wouldn't make a buck off of that, right?

    Perhaps contacting KPTV's investigative reporter will give them a little nudge in the pants. This is a story worth more publicity than it will get on a web site. In fact, I may go do that right now...

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  • organic brian February 1, 2006 at 10:51 am

    News tips contacts,
    KPTV
    fox12news@kptv.com

    KATU
    thedesk@katu.com

    KOIN
    koindesk@koin.com

    KGW
    newstips-8@kgw.com

    OPB
    503-244-9900
    website

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  • Chriss Pagani February 1, 2006 at 10:55 am

    Yes, it's called "fencing" in the common usage. The main difference between the corner crook and the police is that it isn't illegal for the police to sell stolen property.

    That needs to change. I think it needs to be illegal for the police or any government agency to sell seized property before they make every reasonable effort to reunite it with it's rightful owner. Selling it should be a LAST resort, only available when all other possibilities are exhausted.

    As it stands now, the police have every incentive to sell your stuff and no incentive to give it back to you.

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  • Evan February 1, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Although my bike's never been stolen I etched my named and contact info near the bottom the seatpost. I guess I hope that it would be discovered there by the cops or an honest person.

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  • Jonathan Maus February 1, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    Hey folks, I really don't think we should come down on the cops for this. They do make an effort to reunite stolen bikes with their owners. We can't expect some CSI-style investigation for every bike they come across.

    They're not out to make a buck...I'm sure if they could figure out an efficient system for returning stolen goods to their owners they would do it.

    Maybe my headline was poorly worded, but I meant for this post to inform you about a resource for finding your bike. I don't think the cops (actually the state of Oregon) are doing any thing wrong.

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  • Chriss Pagani February 1, 2006 at 12:47 pm

    Well, they AREN't doing anything "wrong" that's for sure. At least, not in the sense that it is illegal. My point was that it is perfectly legal but shouldn't be.

    If you made a law that said they had to give the bikes to a charity like Goodwill if they couldn't find the owner (instead of selling it) I'm pretty sure they would suddenly start finding a lot more owners.

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  • organic brian February 1, 2006 at 1:49 pm

    Oh, so what steps do the police go through to attempt to find the owners? Maybe I'm just ignorant of how the system works, but my own experience and that of some others I know seems to indicate a lack of interest on the part of police in getting stolen bikes returned.

    I've just left a message with Brian Schmautz of PPD asking what they do to try to locate owners of stolen bikes, but maybe someone here has experience they can speak from.

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  • Jessica Roberts February 1, 2006 at 2:48 pm

    I know there are people who have had their bikes returned by the police, but I am not sure what all the steps are. I believe that, in general, if you haven't filed a police theft report with the S/N you are not likely to have them return it to you, so that's always a good idea (not that I've bothered for any of the bikes that have been stolen from me...but I should have).

    I know they should check with the National Bike Registry too but again I can't say whether that always happens.

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  • B February 1, 2006 at 4:02 pm

    I think that the cops are getting an unfair smack on this. The cops *do* try and reunite people with their lost property, including bikes. I've had my bike stolen before. I've also had my house burgled, and in neither situation did I get my stuff back. It's sucks, but I realize that it's impossible for the cops to reunite every person with every item that has been taken from them.

    What are the police to do in that situation, when the leads dry up and they can't match property with people? They can't hold onto all that stuff forever -- having it rot in a warehouse costs money for the space.

    It may be crappy for those of us who have been in that situation before, but I think pointing the finger and accusing the cops of purposefully holding onto our stuff just so they can go around and sell it is unfair and unwarranted. Maybe donating the stuff is the way to go, maybe not, but I doubt it will lead to more people getting their stuff back.

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  • brett February 1, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    i follow the forum on portlandonline.com and the neighborhood officers are always posting about recent drug busts and drug house busts and all the gear they confiscate. one thing they always stress is - "REPORT THEFT." most people don't report burgleries and thefts, so when the police recover items, they have no link to get the items back to the original owner. my question to the author, did you report your bike stolen? if so, then the police didn't do their job. if not, then we can't throw stones.
    if your bike gets stolen, file a police report. you may get it back.

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  • beth h February 1, 2006 at 7:17 pm

    Coupla things here:

    1. As a Licensed Secondhand Dealer myself, I know that the police receive THOUSANDS of secondhand sale reports every week, from dealers all over the city. They have a small handful of people to receive and catalog the items and another, smaller handful of detectives out there trying to follow up on stolen property reports. Don't be too hard on these folks, because they're overwhelmed.

    2. If you have a bicycle, go out to the garage -- right now! Do it! Get up outta your chair and GO! -- and write down a complete, thorough description of your bike (down to the kind of rack, fenders and stickers on it) and the serial number. The number is usually found stamped on the underside of the bottom bracket shell (where the cranks come out of), or on the seat tube or the rear dropout. If you have a camera, take a picture of the bike, showing the side with the drive train. Keep all this info in a safe place at home and Do Not Lose It, Ever. Treat it like a car registration. If you buy your bike new, the shop will give you a copy of the inventory tag with all this stuff on it. KEEP IT. When you sell your bike, give the paperwork to the new owner as a courtesy (with your address and credit card info carefully blacked out, of course).

    3. Due to the aforementioned understaffing, the city no longer has a bicycle registry. But you can register at the National Bike Registry online.

    4. Without trying to sound classist or anything, when you go to look for housing, be very wary of any situation that forces you to park your bike outside all night, especially if it's your transportation. Insist on seeking solutions that will let you bring it in at night. Offer to install hooks (and spackle the holes again when you move out) and hang it above your bed if that's what it takes. When I go out of town I lock our bikes together inside the house because even if they break in the bikes will be harder to steal and ride away. Go ahead and be a little paranoid and a little anal if it helps.

    It's easy to bemoan the state of bike theft and blame it ALL on the thieves or on law enforcement. But HEY! If you wanna keep your bike, then you need to do your part to reduce the risk of loss and increase the chance of getting it back.
    Good luck --Beth Hamon

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  • Scott Mizée February 1, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    Wow... good info here. I did file a police report when my bike was stolen from in front of the KOIN Center two years ago, but never heard back from the officer or anyone else in the bureau. I love your "encouragement," Beth!

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  • Jonathan Maus February 1, 2006 at 10:53 pm

    I would recommend StolenBikeRegistry.com as a good place to list your bike. It's free and there's some solid technology behind it.

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  • Scott Mizée February 1, 2006 at 11:28 pm

    Did you ever get your stoeln bike back, Jonathan?

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  • Michael February 2, 2006 at 7:09 am

    Perhaps there is an opportunity for volunteers from the community to help out here?

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  • Chriss Pagani February 2, 2006 at 7:10 am

    I only want to add that in no way did I say anything unfair about the police or pick on them. All I'm saying is that human nature is human nature and the current situation gives a 100% upside to NOT finding owners of stolen property. It's unbalanced.

    We need either a requirement of several specific steps the police must take to find the owner and/or a law requiring that such property be donated to charity instead of sold. Only then will balance return.

    It would really just bring us back to the old days when sales were almost as much work as finding the owner - which is why 20 years ago Michael got his bike back based on an unusual seatpost bolt. Back then, it was often easier to find the owner than deal with the property another way. Now, however, selling stolen property has become a highly-profitable commercial venture.

    And that is just plain wrong.

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  • Jonathan Maus February 2, 2006 at 11:45 am

    KGW TV channel 8 will cover this story on their 6PM newscast tonight. I just returned from interviewing with them and they're also talking with the guy in charge of seized property at the Police Bureau.

    This type of attention would not have come without all of your constructive and insightful comments!

    Thanks to all of you for being a part of this site.

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  • Scott Mizée February 3, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    I saw this on KGW TV tonight. Nice story, Jonathn. I keep wondering... why doesn't the Police Department donate these to the Community Cylcling Center or some other notable organization that can put them to good use? Do they really need the money from someone else's mis-fortune?

    Regardless, it was a great spot about BikePortland.org>

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  • Crunksty Grublugger April 12, 2006 at 10:49 pm

    I think most police departments make no effort to reunite property with its owners. In Cleveland, my car was stolen and they didn't check for fingerprints or anything, just towed it to the junk yard. It's just another stolen car to them, and apparently they had no interest in stopping the guilty parties from stealing more. If they don't care about grand theft auto, then a bike is truly meaningless to them.

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  • Paolo May 22, 2006 at 3:32 pm

    Stolen Masi. This is what they told me when I ask why they sell bikes that are clearly stolen:
    Reagarding your message above, we consider ourselves more of a consignment shop than a pawn shop. We sell items for different police agencies, and do not do background checks on items we sell. Police agencies go to great lengths to research stolen/recovered items, to try to get any item back to it's rightful owner. Yes, we realize this bike was stolen. We realize that many items we sell are stolen. The onus of proving an item was stolen and is rightfully theirs lies solely on the individual. If they did what they were supposed to, they would have noted the serial number, and issued a police report. If an individual can prove (through a police report) that an item is theirs, we have no problem giving their item back. However, most people can't do this. Instead of taking responsibility, it seems easier to place blame. I have a high dollar bike, and it's marked and the serial number recorded. If it were to be stolen, I would file a police report with this information, and I would stand a much better chance of getting it back. As far as this bike is concerned, there is no information to support that this is that persons bike. Sure, there's a description, but how many bikes are there that fit this description? I have been in contact with this person, and they were unable to verify the correct serial number, and corresponding police report. Then there's the issue of insurance....Is a person, who had their bike stolen, then were reimbursed by insurance, deserve their bike back? Would this not constitute insurance fraud? All good questions. Rest assured, if an owner can prove this is their bike, we will go back through channels, and will get their item back to it's rightful owner.

    By the way the bike is still listed for sale!
    I asked them if they check bikeportland.org.

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  • Allen Harp January 26, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    If they used the proceds for a charitable cause I might agree with them auctioning it off. Otherwise, the community would be better served if the items were donated directly to a local charity and all that volunteer time were spent apprehending the culprits who stole the property to begin with.

    Just my two cents.

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