We’ve addressed the issue of suspected stolen bike chop shops several times; but we’ve never seen photos quite like the ones sent in by two readers in the past few weeks.
John Howe was riding along the Springwater Corridor path just south of the Ross Island Bridge yesterday when he saw bike parts literally spilling out of bins and boxes adjacent to a homeless encampment. The parts appear to be organized — one bin contains several wheels, another pile contains forks. Howe even spotted what appears to be a metal box that likely contains a power tool (which would be used for cutting tubes, scraping off serial numbers, and so on.)
And earlier this month, reader Mike Skeels sent in a few photos of what he referred to as “the most blatant chop operation I’ve ever seen out there.” (Location was west of SE 92nd.) Skeels said he saw two guys “actively taking a bunch of bikes apart.” Amazingly, one of the men actually allowed Skeels to take his photo…
These scenes are all too common among the numerous homeless encampments that have cropped up along the Springwater Corridor and Eastbank Esplanade paths in recent years. Unfortunately, addressing the issue is more complicated than you might expect.
Local agencies that have jurisdiction and enforcement responsibilities in these locations, including the Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland Parks & Recreation, and the Portland Police Bureau, are all aware of the issue. They have cleaned up many camps — but they always seem to return a few days later.
It’s also important to keep in mind that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. While you might be 100% sure these are brazen criminals, consider this: What if they’re just building bikes for friends using parts they’ve found? Or, what if they buy parts/get them donated/collect them from bike shop dumpsters and put bikes together as a way to make a bit of extra cash? What if these are their own bikes?
While we should keep those scenarios in mind, the fact is that the police often recover stolen bikes (and tools of the trade) from these camps, so it’s reasonable to assume that at least some of these parts are stolen property.
At this point, Portlanders like Howe and others are fed up. They’re talking about taking matters into their own hands. Howe wants to try and get the serial numbers off the frames. Another person said they’re considering getting some friends together, rolling up on cargo bikes, and simply carting away the parts themselves.
Vigilante actions are the result of frustration and a feeling that the police and other agencies are not taking care of the problem quickly enough. The good news is there are signs of progress.
We are aware of a group of citizens (organized by Roger Goldingay, owner of the Cartlandia food cart pod on the Springwater at 82nd) that’s working with the City’s Office of Neighborhood Involvement to clean up some of the camps. Another positive sign is that we’ve succeeded in raising the profile of bike theft and we have solid momentum to address these issues in a more strategic — and hopefully effective — way.
I’m happy to announce that next week I’ll be sitting down to talk about bike theft with new Police Chief Larry O’Dea. I’ll be sure to show him these photos.