Bike theft: What should we do about it?

Anyone that’s ridden a bike for at least a few years has had to confront the feeling. You know, that sinking pit in your stomach when you realize someone has taken your beloved bike.

I noticed a recent post on Craigslist about how local bike thieves are starting to run amok. They’re getting more and more brazen and some local cyclists feel helpless. Turns out the guy that made that post, is the same guy who got his bike stolen (they cut his U-Lock!) in broad daylight at the Chunkathalon with hundreds of people milling around.

So what can cyclists do?

Should we take the law into our own hands and start doing vigilante-style sting operations?

Is is moral/ethical to lure unsuspecting thieves into staged traps then beat them to a pulp apprehend them until authorities arrive?

What have your experiences been with reporting stolen bikes to the police?

What are some other ways we as a community can deal with this problem?

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Miriam
Miriam
17 years ago

I had a bike and only transportation stolen several years ago in Eugene while I was at work. In reporting it to the police and the security services that worked at the building (great security services…) they were very dismissive and VERY unhelpful. I called the theft unit a couple of times in the weeks after and was told that they would contact me if they had any information. Of course they never did, as bike theft is pretty damn low on their list of priorities. I now carry locks that weigh almost as much as my bike, and have everything bolted down or I take it off when I lock it up.

Frank
17 years ago

How about when the cops steal all your bikes? Then what do you do? This happened a while ago when a few cops showed up with their cars and trucks, cut the chain on the pile and took all of the mini bikes.

Kent
Kent
17 years ago

I think there should be more focus on theft-proof or theft-resistent bike racks. I don’t have any particular solution in mind at this point. But when the focus is on carrying the lock with you on the bike we will eventually lose that arm’s race or kill ourselves with 50lb locks. I’m sure there are people who have thought about this a LOT more than I have, but some ideas off the top of my head:

1. Secure metered racks with electronic locks. It should be possible to design a rack with a computerized parking meter sort of lock where you swipe a credit card or put some quarters in and get an electronic key. A very high tech version of a bus locker if you will. Since the bike rack and lock are permanently mounted to the ground they can be as heavy as necessary to deter any thief. The electronic key could be a plastic key-card like the hotel key cards. You put in your .50 cents (or whatever) and the machine spits out your key. When you go back to retrive your bike you insert the key back in the lock and retrieve your bike.

2. Same sort of theft-proof lock in which the rider brings his own padlock. The disadvantage to this sort of approach, including the bike locker type of parking is that if there is no meter the parking gets “bogarted” by folks who leave their bikes there permanently.

3. Valet bike parking. Perhaps the city could come up with some sort of incentive or requirement for public parking garages to provide secure bike parking. You check your bike at the parking garage and retrieve it with your claim check. Obviously this sort of thing isn’t going to work everywhere but should work downtown.

4. Impose code requirements for secure bike parking for new commercial and apartment construction. There are plenty of requirements in the codes to address car parking. Some well thought-out requirements to address bike parking might be appropriate as well.

Fritz
17 years ago

I generally bring my bikes in with me — into my work, into the store, etc. I’ve always wondered about thefts at large group events, what with several bikes laying around unattended.

Jessica
Jessica
17 years ago

The Beaverton Police Department has been doing bike theft sting operations, where they park a fancy bike with no lock and have an officer watching to catch someone stealing it. I have heard that the Portland Police Bureau has borrowed their bike to do the same. I don’t know any more than that, but it might be an interesting follow-up article for bikeportland.org.

My question is, will anything happen to a bike thief who gets caught? If there are no real consequences, I understand better why law enforcement officers don’t consider it a high priority. I feel like I’ve read in the paper that nothing happens–aren’t our jails overfull of meth addicts? Or is that just the impression they’re giving? In any case, I don’t have the facts, just the impression that without any real consequences, bike thieves have no reason not to continue, and officials have no reason to enforce.

As for my own personal bike theft prevention system, I uglified my bike (lots of stickers, dorky preacher-style handlebars, I always take my accessories), and I use both a Krypto U-lock and a combo cable lock. It definitely feels like I shouldn’t have to be so diligent, but OTOH I really don’t want my bike to get stolen! I also lock up my bikes to each other at home, making sure the cable goes through the wheels so they couldn’t be rolled as a group. Of course, a determined thief could beat my systems, but I don’t want to feel like I didn’t do everything I could to prevent a theft. I love my bikes.

Nick
Nick
17 years ago

Rather than attempts to beef up bike security, I was trying to brainstorm ways to take the fight to the bike thieves. Because, as long as law enforcement does not attempt to bust them, they are only going to get more and more brazen. I don’t want to live in a city where you are considered a fool if you even consider locking up a valuable bike outside in broad daylight.

I think a daylight sting operation with several nice bikes and a couple people watching each bike has a good chance of netting some bike thieves. It would only take a few stings until word started getting around and bike thieves became a little more bashful about stealing in broad daylight.

My primary concern is the possibility of a violent altercation. Is it legal to forcefully detain people after making a citizen’s arrest? Does anyone know more about the citizen’s arrest process?

I am quite in earnest about this project and would be more than willing to use whatever limited funds I have to finance logistics. I need willing individuals any of the following: knowledge of the law, high-end bikes that they are willing to use as bait, or camcorders for documenting evidence. Contact me at nick@emilive.com if interested.

Andy
17 years ago

I’m still waiting for karma to catch up with the dudes who stole my bikes. 3 stolen so far, all had to cut the locks.

I wonder how the Taliban dealt with bike theives. Or the Chinese government.

Kent
Kent
17 years ago

Personally I think this sort of thing falls into the same zero tolerance community policing approach that Guiliani took in NYC when he took on the task of cleaning up that city. You absolutely have to deal with the “little” stuff like grafiti, broken windows, agressive panhandling, and yes, bike theft, if you want to improve the liveability of the city. You just absolutely cannot let the little shit slide and expect the place to be liveable. Now I know bike theft doesn’t seem like “little stuff” to those who get their bikes stolen. But apparently it seems like it to the police judging from their shrug the shoulders response.

As an aside, when I was last in Seattle the papers there were making the same sorts of complaints about auto theft and were running stories about how the police weren’t even bothering to detain first time car thieves because it wouldn’t stick. So I suspect it’s not just bike theft but all forms of theft that get shrugged at.

Scout
17 years ago

I live in a little apartment in Southwest Portland. So southwest, as a matter of fact, that we’re almost not Portland. Alas, the rent is cheap, and we have amenities.

One of the great benefits of this building is a bike alley. A locked room, within the building proper, with racks for tenants’ bikes. In the past month, FOUR bikes have been stolen from the room which only people who rent here have the key to.

It’s sad and sobering, but reminds me of the warm feeling I get when I remember that bike thieves will rot in their own ring of hell. Have mercy on the schmuck I catch laying hands on my ride. Have mercy, for this short girl grew up in a house full of brothers, and I know how to administer a much-needed beating.

Nick
Nick
17 years ago

Thanks for the info, Jessica. I know that some police departments across the country have performed sting operations but was unaware that Beaverton was doing it.

But leaving an unlocked bike and waiting for someone to steal it is just stupid. You are only gonna nab the first tweaker or dumb kid that comes along. I am interested in confronting the professionals, the ones that snip U-locks in broad daylight, not amateurs taking advantage of the situation.

el timito
el timito
17 years ago

I use the Ugly Bike method of theft prevention myself. Knock on wood, since my ride is also my bride (see the wedding at http://homepage.mac.com/trorb/BikeTV/iMovieTheater58.html).
But I’ve had plenty of bikes redistributed without my permission (including the bike I moved to Portland with, my car-free ride in Santa Cruz), so I wrote a little song about it – listen for yourself at http://www.ridemybike.org/tmb/trash.html

Jessica
Jessica
17 years ago

I feel you, Nick, and it may be that I have misunderstood the program. I just heard about it once, briefly, at a Beaverton Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting. I do have the officer’s name and contact info who told me about it, if anyone’s interested in following up–I just haven’t had the time to do it yet.

Bryan
Bryan
17 years ago

I sit on Beaverton’s Bike Advisory Committee, and we often get updates from the police as to how they are setting up stings to catch bike theives. But I agree with Nick and others who say that doing stings isn’t going to abate the problem, but rather bust a couple of people looking to snag an easy bike. Unfortunately, I don’t know how else the police are going to track down bike theives, because at present there are few ways to find stolen bikes and the chodes that take them (the one that comes quickest to mind is by stores reporting when someone tries to sell a hot bike to them).

Any thoughts as to how we can create a better system for tracking bikes without making it to where we need to have license plates for our two-wheel free machines?

Nick
Nick
17 years ago

Bryan,
I wasn’t saying that setting up stings was a bad idea. I think it is a great idea. In fact, I want to get together a crew and set up our own private stings around Portland. I was only saying that the stings must be conducted intelligently i.e. using high quality bikes and locking them up with U-locks. This way the people you are nabbing are the professionals, not the amateurs.

Jessica, I would be interested in contacting this officer to inquire about stings by the Portland police and also to see whether they would encourage civilians to set up their own sting operations.

Nick
Nick
17 years ago

I researched Oregon law a bit today and came up with this:

133.225 Arrest by a private person. (1) A private person may arrest another person for any crime committed in the presence of the private person if the private person has probable cause to believe the arrested person committed the crime. A private person making such an arrest shall, without unnecessary delay, take the arrested person before a magistrate or deliver the arrested person to a peace officer.

Another statute describes the force allowed:
161.229 Use of physical force in defense of property. A person is justified in using physical force, other than deadly physical force, upon another person when and to the extent that the person reasonably believes it to be necessary to prevent or terminate the commission or attempted commission by the other person of theft or criminal mischief of property.

So anything other than deadly force, which is specifically prohibited, is allowed in making a citizen’s arrest.

Aaron
Aaron
17 years ago

I can speak from experience on bike theft. In the past 10 years I have had 10 bikes stolen. Some due to my own negligence, some due to fate. I have no faith in the city services given that while there may be a few that care, most are auto-centric and aren’t concerned about bikes. However being a former New Yorker I can offer the following advice to prevent theft.
#1 ALWAYS lock the bike with a quality lock (better than U-lock).
Not quite as good but effective – use a junky looking utility bike when you expect to lock up.
#2 Get hose clamps (those metal loops that tighten with a screwdriver). Set the quick release flush with the chainstay/fork and wrap the quick release around both. Now the thief must have an extra tool to walk off with your wheel.
#3 If you happen to not have a lock (hopefully this doesn’t happen) disconnect both brakes and take the chain off the front cogs. Now the bike is unrideable and the person must spend extra time walking it (or better yet they’ll assume it’s not worth taking). You can also put a bungee through the rear wheel to eliminate rideability.

Jason
17 years ago

Ahh my circa 1980’s Bianchi was in the garage for the longest time, and I’d look at the bikers rolling downtown during my easy drive and said, okay I’ll do it when it stops raining. So it finally dried out in May and I did it. A little wobbly, but I’m okay and everything was ok.

I locked up outside my office in NW, off 21st. I personally know all the transients and kids, so I feel very safe. All the women in the office looked at my legs. That’s ok too.

I came out at lunch and the bike is gone AND the thief left the bolt cutters behind, jauntily propped up against the pole.

Called 911 because I imagined the thief coasting away RIGHT NOW. They weren’t interested. Called non-emergency. Got voice mail. Got a call back from a cop five hours later.

Gave him a description. Serial number? I dunno! Okay, he said, keep looking, call us if you find it yourself, call us if you want us to look in our stolen property locker. But that’ll be evidence! Ya so you probably can’t have it back for a long time.

Cop: Can you prove it’s yours?
Me: Ya my 5 year old can ID it in a line up.

Me: What chance you’ll find it?
Cop: Not good.

So it’s gone. I looked for a week. I looked on Craig’s as I looked for another. I was sad and disappointed in humanity and the PPB.

Then I bought another bike – new and not as fun, but safe and easy – and I have ridden to and from work twice a week all summer!

Yay!

BTW Portland Public Artwork is linked to your blog. This blog is a record and a conversation about the public artwork in Portland.

See for yourself at http://pdxartwork.blogspot.com/

Traffic Dork
Traffic Dork
17 years ago

some cities have placed GPS transmitters in bicycles, locked them in areas where lots of bike theft has happened… when they get stolen… go get the theif and sometimes a bunch of other stolen bikes. We may not be able to have criminal consequences. But, we can at least try something that gets people their bikes back and let’s us know who the thieves are.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
17 years ago

Wow. Thanks everyone for your intelligent contributions and comments.

Frank:
When cops steal bikes they should be held accountable. Did anyone file a police report on that!? I think a press release to the media would have been awesome: “Cops Caught Stealing Mini-bikes Downtown”…news at 11.

Thanks again to all of you and keep the tips and ideas coming! I think it’s ultimately up to us to make this situation better…on that note, would anyone be interested in me starting a “Stolen Bike Listings” page? I could let people register and post their stolen bike info so more of the community can be on the lookout.

Let me know if this sounds like a good idea.

Jason
17 years ago

A “Stolen Bike Listings” would be great, but add to it a regular email blast to the usual suspects, such as neighborhood associations, cop shops, pawn shops, bike shops, anywhere a thief might turn. Allow for photos + descriptions + emails.

Ya it’s our community, if we don’t turn it over to the authorities.

Jessica Roberts
17 years ago

Hey, don’t accuse the bike shops of a crime they’re not guilty of–I know that at least Citybikes and Sellwood have a waiting period, make you show ID, and check serial numbers the police to make sure they’re not selling stolen goods. I would be shocked if the CCC and North Portland Bike Works weren’t equally conscientious.

MJ
MJ
17 years ago

I googled and found that there are already a few bike registries out there:
http://www.nationalbikeregistry.com/
http://www.cyclefinders.com/
and sellwood cycles has this:
http://sellwoodcycle.com/Gallery/Stolen

Would another ‘stolen bike listings’ help? Is there a way to make it better?

I guess a registry shouldn’t be confused with a stolen bike listing.

How can we make technology help us on this? Portland is a town of firsts maybe we can all put our heads together and create some kickass stolen-bike application?

Maybe there a specific places where most bikes get stolen, maybe specific times when they get stolen, maybe one brand lock gets busted more than others, maybe certain locking techniques work better?

More questions than answers.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
17 years ago

MJ:
The beauty of the technology behind this site is that it’s very easy to start a stolen bike listing service. No need to launch a huge kickass application…don’t get me wrong, it’d be nice to have a comprehensive site with a bunch of bells and whistles but it takes a ton of time/money/will to make it happen.

Also, with all due respect to Sellwood, I wonder how many visitors see their stolen bike listings everyday? The most important factor in actually finding some of the stolen bikes is to have a large number of people view the photos/descriptions. It’s like eBay. It works because everyone posts and views all in the same place.

So, I would like to announce the BikePortland.org Stolen Bike Listings. Just “register” to be a user (bottom right sidebar) and create your listing (a post). Once you’ve entered the details of the bike and theft hit “save”. Then go to “Upload” if you have a photo. Then, take the address it gives you back to your post and copy/paste it into the body of your post.

When I log in to the account, I’ll see your post, make any edits necessary and hit “Publish”.

Let’s see how this works. We’ve got nothing to lose (well, except a bit of my time!) Any problems let me know.

Jessica
Jessica
17 years ago

Jonathan, after you’ve had this up for a bit and gotten it tweaked to perfection, you should let the used bike shops know and see how to make it work for them to be able to check it regularly. Sellwood would probably be happy to stop using their own bandwidth for it, as long as this listing becomes comprehensive enough to be worth their time to check it.

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
17 years ago

Jessica:
If we get enough listings, it would be great for the shops to get on board and check it frequently. They could either just check the site every few days or set up their feedreaders to check the RSS feed.

MJ
MJ
17 years ago

Simple is good, I think the key point is to get folks on board (both posting their stolen bikes, and checking before they buy used bikes) bikeportland.org is certainly a good url for this, do you think you can make a super-easy url for the stolen listings.

http://bikeportland.org/2005/09/09/stolen-bikes/
(long)
http://bikeportland.org/stolen
(short)

I notice folks post alot of stolen bikes on CL, perhaps a post or two over there to get folks coming over here would help?

I’m also curious about the surrounding circumstances, where, when, type of lock, how it was locked. Could you add those fields as optional?

Adams Carroll (News Intern)
17 years ago

MJ:
I agree. It won’t work with some listings and getting cops and shops on board to check it regularly.

I agree too about the URL thing. Right now it’s http://bikeportland.org/cats/stolenbikes/ which I don’t think is too bad.

About Craigslist…I thought I’d wait till a few more listings came in. But if you’d like to post something about it over there right now feel free!

I can’t add “fields” but people can add this information to the description.

Thanks for your feedback. Keep in touch.

Phillip Lucas
Phillip Lucas
16 years ago

How many locks do you use, and what level of security?

I lived in amsterdam for 10 years, and as a rule of thumb you needed a minimum of two locks to stop your bike being stolen.

The best solution was to use a ‘ring lock’ (like an AXA SL7, googleable) fixed inside the rear triangle of your frame (when the lock is locked, its tricky or impossible to remove because it is locked to the wheel, bolted to the frame, and if they unbolt it, it cant be slid out of the rear triangle on most bikes)
An additional chain can be attached in the lock mechanism of the SL7, so you have a double lock in one.

Then You would have a separate chain lock (8ks or 10ks from ABUS, again, googleable) to secure the front wheel and frame to a pole or fence.

Heavy, yes. Safe, yes.

Phill

johoro
johoro
16 years ago

The chatter about doing a private “sting” seems to have died down, but just in case anyone’s still seriously considering it, DON’T. Anyone brazen enough to try to steal a bike in broad daylight is clearly desperate and a few aces short of a full deck. As someone pointed out many are addicts strung out so far on meth they’re wired tighter than a guitar string. What’re you going to do, walk up, tap ’em on the shoulder and politely ask for their surrender? The potential for violence is huge – you could just as well end up with the pair of bolt cutters embedded in your own forhead. Besides the danger to you, your bike could be damaged in any theft attempt. Let the police who are trained, armed professionals do the police work.

Someone else mentioned that Portland police have porrowed a bike from Beaverton for stings. Maybe we could help Portland PD by offering to deliver one of our bikes to them for use in a sting, saving them the time for getting one from Beaverton??

Ian Hopper
14 years ago

This is an old post (obviously) but in case anyone reads it: I carry pepper spray with me on my keychain. If I ever catch someone cutting my lock, I spray first, and ask questions later. Pepper spray is non-lethal and considered an acceptable way of DE-escalating a hostile situation (theft is pretty hostile!). Then call the cops!

I just bought a new bike, and I\’m planning on using the lock alarm (available from http://www.etipinc.com/lockalarm.asp?cat=security) , along with my current arsenal of skewer seatpost and stem locks from pinhead components. Peter White Cycles sells the Pitlocks (made in Germany…oooh) which look nicer but are more expensive. I may update my OnGuard Mini lock to a OnGuard Beast 5016 and the idea of a GPS transponder or RFID tag inside the frame is starting to sound good… but maybe I\’m just overkill here. I just love my bikes, and bike thieves get me all hot & bothered.. in a BAD way.