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Is this thing hot? What to do if you think you’ve found a stolen bike

Posted by on August 27th, 2009 at 10:26 am

Robert Pickett.
(Photo © J. Maus)

So you’ve seen a nervous-looking young guy riding a too-small high-end racing bike down the street with shoes that definitely don’t match the clips. Or maybe you found a bike stashed behind your garage. Or your friend saw your long-lost steed locked to a pole downtown. What’s the right thing to do? Should you call the police? Can you keep a bike you find? If someone finds your bike, how do you prove it’s yours?

We get emails from readers with these questions at least once a week. We haven’t had good answers (besides directing folks to our stolen bike listings), so we asked Portland Police Officer (and occasional BikePortland contributor) Robert Pickett for his advice on what to do if you’ve found a bike that you think might be stolen.

BikePortland: What is your advice for someone who finds a strange bike stashed in the bushes out behind their garage?

Robert Pickett: If the bike has clearly been left there and the owner/rider isn’t around, please take it in and call the police non-emergency number (503-823-3333). Sometimes the bike has been stolen and dumped, or stashed someplace in the bushes for the thief to come back and get later.

Let the call-taker know that you found a bike and would like to turn it in. The call-taker will probably set up a “found property” call for an officer to come and get the bike from you. This is a low priority call, however, so ideally you have some time to wait around—maybe you can put it in your garage for safekeeping and get back to mowing the grass while you wait for the officer.

Upon arrival, the officer will probably do a quick serial number check to see if the bike was reported stolen by serial number. She will ask you where and when you found it, and should give you a receipt for it.

If we can’t immediately determine the owner, we will hold on to it for around 60 days. You may request to keep the bike if we are unable to find an owner. Tell the officer who comes to get the bike that you would like to file a finders claim. Be sure to get a property receipt if you do this. Instructions for filing such a claim are on the back of the receipt. You should also call the Property Evidence Division within five days of turning in the bicycle to be sure your claim was registered—phone number is on the back of the receipt.

It’s true — cable locks
are worthless for deterring theft
(Photo © J. Maus)

BP: What if you see what you think is a stolen bike, but someone is riding it, or it’s locked to a pole?

RP: If someone sees what they believe to be a stolen bike being ridden by someone, they should call 911.

If someone sees what they believe to be a stolen bike locked up or left somewhere, with no apparent thief nearby, they should call non-emergency (503-823-3333).

In both cases, they should be prepared to give their name, location, callback number the discription of the bike and why they think it is stolen. If it is being ridden, they will also be asked the description and direction of travel of the person riding it.

If the officer is connected with the stolen bicycle, he will have to make a judgment about whether or not there is enough evidence that the bicycle was indeed stolen. If he runs the serial number and it comes back stolen, it is a no-brainer. If it is based simply on a description and circumstances, it may not be so easy.

I just want people to understand that there is a standard of proof that must be met, in the judgment of the officer, before she can make an arrest and/or seize the bicycle as evidence.

BP: What do you do if your bike was stolen and you think you’ve found it online?

RP: If you find what you believe to be your stolen bicycle on Craigslist or E-bay [or BikePortland’s stolen bikes listings] the first thing to do is print a copy of the listing in case it changes or comes down. Then call the non-emergency number. Depending on the situation, which includes availability of officers and the nature of the supporting information, it may be possible to attempt to arrange a meeting with the seller with the police on hand.

You will need to be able to prove that the bike is yours. Proof of ownership is most obviously a receipt from the bike shop which includes a serial number. If you don’t have one of these, an officer would use her best judgment based on available information.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Tina JohnsonElly BluewsbobJoe RoweKWW Recent comment authors
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Quentin
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Quentin

I would like to ask Officer Pickett for a small favor on behalf of all Portland bicycle owners. When I recently registered my bike with the National Bike Registry, I was surprised to find that the Portland Police Bureau does not participate in the NBR program. Hundreds of law enforcement agencies across the country have free access to the NBR database, including the Oregon State Police, but not the Portland Police. See for yourself: http://www.nationalbikeregistry.com/signups.html#Anchor-OR

We’ve all seen the NBR registration packets and stickers at just about every local bike shop, but what’s the use in registering your bike if the Portland Police won’t use the database?

I recently emailed several local law enforcement agencies asking them to join the program, but I got no response. Officer Pickett, please take a few moments of your time to contact the National Bike Registry and arrange for the Portland Police Bureau to participate. Considering how much people love their bikes here, we’d all appreciate it.

wsbob
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wsbob

The following would have been particularly helpful information to me when I found a bike a couple years ago:

“Upon arrival, the officer will probably do a quick serial number check to see if the bike was reported stolen by serial number. She will ask you where and when you found it, and should give you a receipt for it.

If we can’t immediately determine the owner, we will hold on to it for around 60 days. You may request to keep the bike if we are unable to find an owner. Tell the officer who comes to get the bike that you would like to file a finders claim. Be sure to get a property receipt if you do this. Instructions for filing such a claim are on the back of the receipt. You should also call the Property Evidence Division within five days of turning in the bicycle to be sure your claim was registered—phone number is on the back of the receipt.”

Immediately after finding it and during the following week after, I purposely talked to the PD or officers in person on 5 different occasions about the bike, trying to get them to run the serial number and determine whether or not the bike had been reported stolen.

‘Turn it in’ was basically all any of the people with the PD I talked to knew to say. Otherwise, they were unresponsive; they didn’t tell me anything about a ‘finders receipt’ or a ‘property claim’ (though I myself vaguely knew something to the effect that after ‘x’ period of days, it was likely possible to claim the bike.)

I wanted to ride the bike occasionally until the owner was found, so I didn’t want to turn it in. Despite having the bike right with me when I talked to the PD in person…they weren’t interested in any details of my having found it…the bikes description or serial number…nothing.

After that, I just gave up on them and posted a ‘found bike’ ad here on bikeportland and I think in bikeforums, for about a month. Got a number of responses, but nothing remotely meeting the description of the bike I found.

BURR
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BURR

after looking at the Quentin’s link, it’s apparent that virtually none of the Metro Area law enforcement agencies participate in the NBR; not just Portland, but also Multnomah County Sheriff, Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, etc. are all absent from the list.

bhance
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bhance

Don’t forget – you can also run the serial number of a bike with your mobile phone at http://mobile.stolenbicycleregistry.com – for free.

This serial search also covers all the bikes listed here on BikePortland.org …

craig
Guest

@Jonathan — “It’s true — cable locks are worthless for deterring theft”

Man, are there stats that reinforce that statement? If so, then I’m eager to see them. I will readily set aside my instinct and reason in the face of good science (sometimes).

I’d LOVE to hear an opinion on this from bike shop owners or distributors of cable locks. Also, does anybody produce them locally?

To me it seems reasonable to expect that an opportutiny thief will pass up a cable-locked bike for an unlocked bike. To me it seems probable that cable locks are useful in deterring theft, although it’s plausible that they are worthless for PREVENTING theft–and even then, only in cases where the thief is serious, skilled, and properly equipped. I’m willing to bet that more thieves do NOT fit that description than those that do.

Officer Picket?

craig
Guest

Sorry, I should have directed my comment to Elly, not Jonathan.

Carl
Guest
Carl

@craig,
“worthless” is obviously a bit hyperbolic, but cable locks in Portland are definitely the low-hanging fruit for thieves.

As for stats, I read a summary of 2007’s bike thefts once (can’t find a link). Of all the bikes stolen, there was none that was locked to a fixed object with a u-lock. They were all either locked with cable locks or not locked at all. I’m sure that there were plenty of bikes that were not stolen in 2007 because they were locked with a cable lock, but I’d prefer the security of a u-lock (even a cheap one) which, in Portland, seems to be enough to scare off a thief.

Thanks Robert and Elly for putting this together. This is a great resource for a situation that arises all-too-often.

bhance
Guest
bhance

Cable locks can be defeated with smaller handheld tools, making the attacks less likely to draw attention.

The common methods for defeating stronger locks involve bigger tools that tend to be noisier and more obvious.

There’s an interesting video (in Dutch) that I ran across that demonstrates several types of common locks being broken: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G1yImVLW_Q0

In the video linked above, only a single lock took longer than 60 seconds to defeat.

-bhance

KWW
Guest
KWW

What do you do when you see someone cutting through a u-lock on a bicycle? (and there are many people strolling by and not doing a thing?)

This is difficult, as say I lost my keys and wanted to get my bike. There is little way for the average person to establish ownership of their very own bike…

Joe Rowe
Guest
Joe Rowe

Dear Jonathan and Editors,

How do I contact Officer Picket? I would like him to write a guide to how to guide. THe subject would be how to get Portland police to give a citation to a person who injuries a cyclist without 1,001 excuses.

Read this story about a cyclist and bike who were both damaged by a car door opening this week in Portland. Seems like the police did the 1001 excuses game here. No excuse for not doing one’s duty. The statutes are very clear about car doors.

https://lists.riseup.net/www/arc/shift/2009-08/msg00305.html

Top 5 Cop excuses for not helping injured cyclists:

1) No cops were witnesses, so we can’t give a ticket

2) There’s no law related to this

3) There is not enough visible bike or human damage

4) The car driver did not intend to do it, so no police report is needed

5) We are busy with other bigger crimes

wsbob
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wsbob

Joe…interesting story. I’m not familiar with the riseup website. From the comments left there, it was hard to get a good sense of what the cops actually did or did not do or say. I looked for a comment that related some discussion that occurred between rider, driver, and police, but didn’t see any.

As one person commenting remarked on riseup, seems like the police might have at least cited the woman in the car for not having insurance.

Here’s an interesting Ray Thomas article that’s related to this type situation:

Car Doored Again! What You Can Do About It.By Ray Thomas

According to the comment first viewable via the link you provided, the woman in the car seemed to volunteer that she failed to open the door properly. Maybe the person riding and she can come to an arrangement. Maybe the person riding could a citation of her own. Lots of work though.

Tina Johnson
Guest
Tina Johnson

Having just experienced bike theft today, I found this post interesting. The Portland Police department is an absolute joke when it comes to reporting a stolen bike. They just don’t have the manpower, nor do they care. I called 6 times today before someone finally called me back to file a report. And, I was told nearly the same amount of times, that getting my bike back was a long shot. Why bother? The city doesn’t care, they do nothing to offenders, and it feels as if they just can’t be bothered with such a low priced item. For those of us that use this item as transportation, it is a big deal. Too bad no one else feels this way. Welcome to a poor economy, where your neighbors down the street just like the meth heads, can steal your bike and get away with it!