Lieutenant gives advice on recovering stolen bikes

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.

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16 years ago

A police officer once told me that if you see your stolen bike locked up someone, put another lock on it and call the cops, that way the bike’s not going anywhere.

Chriss Pagani
16 years ago

Of course, nothing here will keep the COPS from selling stolen bikes, hmm? Which is perfectly legal, unfortunately – and something that needs to change.

As long as the police are legally allowed to make money off of stolen property it will continue to be a losing battle.

16 years ago

Maybe this is a stupid question, but where do I find the serial number? I just looked all over my bike and couldn’t find one.

16 years ago

This doesn’t really address what to do in the event you see someone walking down the street with a stolen bike, which is what happened in the story of the recovered bike.

Granted, we shouldn’t offer thieves ransom for stolen goods, but I don’t think West Cougar had much of an option in the transaction. He saw a stolen bike, and he did what he could to reunite it with its owner. Was he supposed to grab the bike from the other guy and run away? That would make him a thief on the off chance he was wrong about the rare bike. Besides, he wasn’t even sure the person with the bike was the thief.

I hardly think the police would have been any help in this situation, and a good samaritan did what he could in the time he had. I saved every penny I had to buy my bike, and I probably wouldn’t have 150$ to get it back. However, it would be much easier to come up with than buying a new bike altogether.

I say, “Good eye, West Cougar,” and I would offer that man a beer.

16 years ago

this reminds me of a friend who had a very expensive bike stolen. the thieves took it to a local bike shop (the original seller of the bike!) to have the bike appraised. bike shop called rightful owner (RO), who then set up a meeting with thieves. police were called and made aware of the meeting, they said they’d show up. the bad news is that the police were called away and the RO was left to confront the thieves. RO kicked both thieves’ asses, but things could have been worse..

Dr. Mark Ross
Dr. Mark Ross
16 years ago

chriss, huh? cops sell stolen bikes??? I think they sell unclaimed bikes or bikes used in a crime. If one didn’t doc your bike serial number and have it available when the bike was stolen, whose fault is that.

Bike recovery efforts by the police (in this forum, thanks jonathan) will be far more successful if the serial numbers are reported (AND INCLUDED IN THE STOLEN BIKE LISTING HERE!)

16 years ago

The 503-823-3333 is a joke. I called to file a police report after my car was broken into and it took over 15 minutes just to get to the first person who then put me on hold for another. If you saw your bike after it was stolen you would have to keep the person in sight for this long…. I don’t think its realistic……