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

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.

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