A recent bike theft recovery story spurred a debate about what to do if you see a stolen bike in your neighborhood or for sale online. In the story, someone approached a thief and paid them $150 for a bike they suspected was stolen. Some people were happy the owner got his bike back, while others said paying ransom was a terrible idea and would only encourage the thief to steal again.
I asked the Portland Police Bureau Traffic Division Lieutenant what he would recommend doing:
“If someone sees a stolen bike on the street call the police and get an officer there. Call the non-emergency number (823-3333). When the officer arrives explain to the officer what you (the person who is reporting the incident) knows about the bike being stolen. If the officer can examine the bike they will do a records check to see if the bike is stolen. This is where the issue of having made a police report with serial numbers is crucial. If there is no report or the person who is claiming that their bike is stolen has no proof that the bike is theirs, then there is little we can do.
A person must be able to prove ownership so having good records is so important. If the officer finds that the bike is stolen they can seize the bike and conduct an investigation on the spot.
The internet scenario is a little more difficult and I discussed this with our property crime detectives as they have much more experience in this than I do. We (the police) really don’t investigate internet sales of possible stolen items because we cannot say where the item actually is. The best approach in this case would be for the person who believes that their stolen bike is being sold on-line to contact the seller and attempt to arrange a meeting to view the bike.
Once arranged, contact an officer through the non-emergency line and try to have them present when the bike is viewed so that the officer can examine the bike to determine if it is stolen. Again, this is where reporting and good records on the part of the owner come into play. Without a report or good records of ownership there is not much that we can do.
If a person has good records identifying their bike the minimum result can be that the bike is recovered and returned to the owner. The overall results of the investigation will determine if anyone can be charged with theft as a result of the incident.”
The moral of all this advice is to document, document, document. Leave the computer right now, grab your digital camera and a notepad. Take a photo and write down your serial number and as much information about your bike as you can. Then, if your bike gets stolen, call the cops and file a report, then post a detailed description on our Stolen Bike Listings.
Or better yet, go buy a heavy-duty U-lock or chain (no cables), because chances are if you lock up your bike with a good lock it won’t get stolen in the first place.