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PPB officer on a mission to curb downtown bike theft

Posted by on October 29th, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Ofcr David Sanders PPB

Officer David Sanders.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

There’s a strong feeling among many in the community that the Portland Police Bureau simply doesn’t care about bike theft. I hear this sentiment all the time, and I agree that the bureau needs to step up and make this growing problem a higher priority.

In the meantime however, it’s good to know there are some PPB officers going out of their way to battle bike thieves. Officer David Sanders is one of them; but unfortunately he’s doing it inside a bureau that has yet to join him in the fight.

I met Sanders last week at his headquarters office in Old Town.

As he led me into a conference table, I noticed about 8-10 bikes strewn about. They were just the latest batch that Sanders and his partners have taken off the streets and now hope to connect with their owners. Sanders is one of six members of the the downtown Bicycle Patrol Unit (four of which are paid for by Portland Patrol Inc., a private security company that contracts with the PPB), whose job is to keep the peace on the streets. The bulk of his day is responding to low-level disputes and establishing relationships with downtown residents and business owners.

But whenever he can find a few extra minutes, his attention turns to bike theft.

Sanders and his partners cover a swath of downtown that sees more bike theft than anywhere else in the city. Its boundaries include: Portland State University to Union Station and SW 10th the the river.

Stolen bikes at drug bust in Old Town-6

The PPB recovered dozens of bikes during a raid in Old Town in July 2012.

As we chatted, he pulled out a thick folder with “bike theft” on the label. Inside were various bits of research and stories he’d printed up from the web, information on suspects, and statistics and maps showing the extent of the problem.

“There’s no one [in the bureau] dedicated to bike theft. It would be nice if the city said, ‘This is a priority for us.'”
— Officer David Sanders, Portland Police Bureau

According to stats Sanders requested from the Portland Police Data System (PPDS), there have been 887 bikes stolen in the central core area (downtown Portland and the lower eastside) in the past 20 months. Based on the bureau’s estimated value, those stolen bikes represent a total of $748,456 in lost property.

To Sanders, this dollar amount validates his hunch that bike theft is a serious issue. When I asked if he felt it deserved more attention from the bureau and City Hall, Sanders said, “Absolutely,” without hesitation. In three and-a-half years on his current beat, Sanders has noticed a definite uptick. Unfortunately, despite his interest and eagerness in tackling the problem, Sanders can only do so much because bike theft is not a significant part of his official job description.

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“There’s no one [in the bureau] dedicated to bike theft,” he shared, “It would be nice if the city said, ‘This is a priority for us.'”

Sanders said “person crimes” are where most of the bureau’s resources are focused; but he also pointed out that they do take auto theft seriously, so perhaps the consequences for bike theft in the criminal code should be more severe.

A lack of internal support, however, has not stopped Sanders. In addition to studying the crime by crunching numbers and bike theft hot spot maps, he’s also made personal visits to local bike shops to warn them about specific known thieves.

Top Stolen Bike Brands
(by cases and value, since 01/01/13):

  • Trek: 115, $103,915
  • Specialized: 81, $91,221
  • Cannondale: 43, $42,027
  • Giant: 38, $40,221

  • *Source: Portland Police Data System (PPDS)

On October 10th, Sanders issued a Central Precinct Bulletin with the mugshots and names of 11 bike theft subjects. He then printed it out and shared it with several downtown bike shops. He wants shop employees to know these faces because many of them are repeat offenders who specialize in taking bikes. Sanders told me about one person he arrested who had “About 10 u-lock keys on a key-ring.”

Many of the bikes Sanders recovers come from what he referred to as “chop shops” that operate in known encampments around the city. He mentioned two specific locations where he’s tracked down stolen bikes: NW 19th and Savier and under the I-5 freeway at SE Water and Stark. (For more on how the PPB handles chop shops, see our story from last year.)

Sanders also wants to start training other officers to get them up to speed on bicycles. A big problem, he explained, is that most officers — when they arrest someone and find bicycles in their possession — have no idea how to distinguish between a $5,000 racing bike and a $50 beater bike.

Raising the priority of this crime within the PPB culture also means that more officers must start seeing bicycles as vital transportation vehicles that have not just a similar (if not greater) street value as many used cars, but are also just as important to their owners.

One thing Sanders hasn’t pursued much is a bait-bike program where a decoy bike is put out and monitored by officers in hopes that a thief tries to take it. “No time,” replied Sanders when I asked about this, “I’m doing all of this stuff on-the-side as it is.”

If Sanders ran the bureau, he’d love to see a central investigator to coordinate bike theft efforts and two to three officers assigned to the project. “That would be a huge win for the city,” he said.

— This is part of our ongoing reporting on bike theft. Read past coverage here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. 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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MR
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MR

I think that sheet of bike thief’s should be posted to this article. I’ve seen the sheet, rough looking crew.

davemess
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davemess

“have no idea how to distinguish between a $5,000 racing bike and a $50 beater bike.”

Easiest way is to just pick it up.

Jeff Bernards
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Jeff Bernards

It’s time for a kickstarter effort to get some bait bikes, GPS tracking devices and some officer hours. Maybe get a few thieves off the streets. I know finning them is somewhat unrealistic, but maybe?

Anne
Guest
Anne

What can we citizens and bike riders do to help him?

Nathan Hinkle (The Bike Light Database)
Guest

“have no idea how to distinguish between a $5,000 racing bike and a $50 beater bike.”

Why should it matter? The person with a $50 beater bike that gets stolen may need that bike for their daily livelihood far more than the person with the $5000 racing bike. And it may be far harder for the person with the stolen $50 beater bike to replace it than the person with the $5k bike who likely has more disposable income.

Bike theft is bike theft, regardless of whose bike it is and what it’s worth. All bike theft should be taken seriously.

Ethan Jewett
Guest
Ethan Jewett

What this city needs is a bike advocacy organization.

Zaphod
Guest

I think the implied statement is that if a homeless person is sitting on 3 $5000 race bikes that do not fit him/her, then the likelihood of those being stolen is high. A $50 beater bike may very well been bought in a legit way.

Rob Chapman
Guest
Rob Chapman

Thanks for the effort Officer Sanders. Hopefully you don’t take any static for speaking plainly on the topic.

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
kiel johnson

Go By Bike Valet = 97,000 bikes parked and zero bike thefts or lights or helmets or bags… just saying….

Todd Boulanger
Guest

Yes, as Kiel mentioned above, secure 24/7 Bikestation type facilities (Go By Bike, PSU Hub, etc.) have historically very low theft incidences for locked bikes.

And as such the investment in such facilities are an important tool for addressing theft of bikes that need to be parked long term (> 2 hours) and supporting higher “bikes as transport” growth (riders who need in invest in higher quality bikes and accessories). Imagine Portland if there was only secure long term parking for <1 % of central city car drivers.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

I used to blame PPB for the high prevalence of bike theft, but learned Multnomah County (under whom are prosecutors, criminal courts, and MCDC) is really the weak link.

Remember Robert Charles Dady? *After* he was featured here a year ago, he’s earned another 28 CHARGES related to theft (assuming I’m reading PDX mugshots correctly), including felony theft. His name is a rash all over the DA’s website. Why is he not locked up after dozens of arrests? Some people cannot be rehabilitated and need to be isolated from society.

Since MCDC is overcrowded, non-violent offenders matrix out ridiculously fast, and go straight back to car/yard prowls and bike theft. Their sentences are minimal or they once again immediately matrix out of jail. Cops only affect them incidence of getting caught, and the County affects the actual punishment for getting caught. With no real punishment, getting caught doesn’t matter much in a thief’s calculus of whether to go back stealing stuff – it’s not helpful that a thief gets taken to MCDC and is back on the street before that cop’s shift is over.

tl;dr – we could bust every bike thief in the county, but they go through a revolving door back to the street and start stealing again. This is because Multnomah County does not make property crime a high priority.

groovin101
Guest
groovin101

I wonder what the impact would be if we contacted PPB in droves. It seems that PPB email addresses are unpublished, forcing us to sign up with portlandoregon.gov, but there is a contact form.

From your previous story here: http://bikeportland.org/2014/06/18/ppb-chief-reese-takes-shift-downtown-bike-patrol-107500, it seems Chief Reese is aware of the problem. Having done bike patrols once a month, he very well may have already talked with Officer Sanders about it. Maybe they just need some nudging like what BikeLoud’s been doing with the postcard campaign.

lyle w.
Guest
lyle w.

If you steal a car, every single cop within that side of the city it was stolen from is actively looking for it the second it is reported, and if they see it, they do a ‘felony stop’ and arrest the driver at gunpoint.

If you steal a bike, you barely get a hearty sigh after waiting around for three hours for a cop to have free time, and maybe a direction to fill out some forms, or, you know… whatever.

And then we have to sit here and still try to figure out what the city’s priorities are when it comes to bike transportation.

Adam
Guest
Adam

Even, auto theft is not addressed so much more effectively. Some North Precinct police officers, for years new about an ongoing auto chop-shop before serious action was taken. (see link)

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2014/10/portland_car_theft_investigati.html

J_R
Guest
J_R

I suspect many bikes are going for scrap metal after some parts are removed and sold. Any leads on that?

Charles Ross
Guest
Charles Ross

I have an idea for stopping bike theft. It would take a long time to effect but could be a real solution. Require bikes to sport an easily accessible bar code that can be scanned and compared to a data base of listed stolen bikes.
Officers, or even designated individuals, could scan bikes as they see them and verify they are not in the system as ‘stolen’. Bikes lack the bar code, or bar codes that have been altered or damaged would be regarded as ‘stolen’.
This is one method used to identify stolen cars and it is against the law to remove or alter the VIN on a car.
I realize that this is a rather futuristic idea. It would require that all new bikes be sold with a BIN number (a bicycle identification number) and it may require that all existing bikes be outfitted with that BIN.

tee
Guest
tee

I am happy to hear that the bike theft problem is being taken seriously. Helping officers distinguish between $5000 bikes and $50 bikes will be good. It is very important for officers to understand the size of bike vs. the person matters too. One of my stolen bikes was recovered because a giant man brought in my smallest men’s size possible bike into a shop. If a sharp employee hadn’t been paying attention, it never would have been found.

Dave
Guest
Dave

As was suggested on another thread here recently, maybe bike stores in the metro area should stop selling wishful-thinking locks such as cables and half-assed chains and u-locks. A good quality lock is still a lot less money than even many department store bikes these days.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

Thanks, Officer Sanders, for looking out for us!

was carless
Guest
was carless

Springwater anyone? There is a camp along the river about 100 meters south of the Ross Island bridge. Everytime I go by it, I see at least one or two bike trailers full of stripped bike frames going in or out of the camp. They have even added a hoist system, to allow easy transport of heavy loads up and down the river bank. I’m not sure how many people are living there, but it must be at least a dozen or so. I can’t even comprehend how many bikes they must be working through… a thousand a month? More?

Two years ago, noone was camping there. Something really needs to be done about it, they are obviously profiting from close-in SE/downtown access and keeping their activities somewhat concealed.

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

The thing that keeps nagging me about the tent-city chop-shops is how impressive they are! These are people who clearly understand the power of bikes! With very little resources few tools, no covered space, no electricity, etc, they build up these pretty sophisticated businesses. If the mental health issue and addiction issues could be worked on, these people seem to possess the skills and initiative needed to launch a legitimate, bike-based business. It seems so expensive and counter-productive to imprison the petty criminals (some of them, yes- but hopefully not all of them!).

On the other hand, I hear rumors of some organized, west coast, stolen bike distribution ring that drives up an down the I-5 corridor with a bus and trailer, buying and selling stolen bikes. For my money, I would like the law to go after these people and lock them up! I can see some similarities to prostitution- go after the pimps and johns, do what you can to protect and support the women.

Randy
Guest
Randy

Interns can help, however we need the PD to allocate their staff to attend to bike theft. This city values bicycling.

PoPo
Guest
PoPo

The police have easy access to a pretty nice database we might be familiar with: http://bikeportland.org/2012/09/10/stolen-bike-listings-creator-gets-commendation-from-portland-police-bureau-77032

Like thefts from cars, this is a problem that the police will never solve through arrests or bait bikes. I spent hours with teams of officers watching bait bikes, ready to pounce on thieves. The ratio of arrests/officer hours was pathetic. And as mentioned above, property thieves are rarely “off the street” for very long because the DA and the jail are spending their limited resources and space on more serious crimes. Really. Really. “Police arrest the thieves” is not the answer. It isn’t.

The solution here is prevention. And it is a community prevention project, which includes the police, as well as lots of other stakeholders. Map the hot spots… Educate… Use a burly U-lock. Build more secure parking areas… Lock the garage… More valet parking… Consciously take a look at bike racks when you pass and call police if you see something/someone suspicious…Get the used bike stores on the lookout…what else?….

TOM
Guest
TOM

PPD sure did mobilize when Lea Trent’s cruiser was stolen.

JasonS
Guest
JasonS

It takes more than one nice cop with a selfless agenda to fix what’s happening. I work at Western Bikeworks (the nearest shop to the mentioned chop-shop camp at 19th and Savier), and we see so many people that are convicted bike thieves 10x over. I’ve literally had people cut brakes off of bikes across the street from us and had to chase them down the street. NW Portland will be worse than lower Morrison or Lloyd Center for bike theft in the next year. It’s absolutely the worst place to lock up a bike in Portland in my opinion. Your best bet is two u-locks, locking up in smart places, and having your bike stored inside of your house (not in immediate view of windows or entrances) while you sleep. NEVER leave a bike locked up on the street overnight.

If you go to any other major cycling city (New York, SF, Chicago, Minneapolis) you will see a consistent trend of people with $100 Diamondback beaters and Schwinn Varsity clunkers locked up with TWO Kryptonite New Yorker locks. Yeah, $200 of locks on a $100 at best bike. Portland is coming to terms with it’s place as a major city, and part of that is adjusting to major city crime. When your police force fails you, don’t act surprised, do something proactive for your safety and the safety of your personal property: buy another #@&$%^! lock. Like the old saying goes: when being chased by a bear, you don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than your friends. You don’t need 4 u-locks and a chain, but to the typical meth-head, two locks looks like a lot more work than one.

Mtnbkr
Guest
Mtnbkr

One avenue that I haven’t seen tried yet is an attempt to tackle this from a tops down approach.
What if the state of OR mandated that anyone selling more than (say) 5 bikes in a calendar year was required to maintain a listing of all bikes, serial numbers, and sales. This listing would be held at the state level and be available to the general public (open source?) for searching (minus any personally identifiable data that would only be visible to Police).
This would ensure that bike shops, pawn shops, and flea marketeers would all need to keep track of their inventory.
A licensing fee of (say) $100 a year could help pay for the program and there would be penalties for those not in compliance.

The idea here is that is you make it more difficult to fence the stolen property, the thieves would be less likely to steal that type of property in the first place. It wouldn’t eliminate bike theft completely, but it would take away the bulk sales of stolen bikes and most certainly address the bulk thefts. There would be the usual groaning about instituting a licensing structure and requiring bikes shops to pay for it and maintain the data, however most legit bike shops already keep a record of there inventory, the problem is that the data is localized and not available.

This could be an end run around the Craigslist and eBay issue as well as presumably those ‘sellers’ of bikes would need to comply and would finally be forced to document the serial numbers of the bikes.