The Portland Police Bureau swung into action after hearing about a suspected bicycle chop shop on the Springwater earlier this week.
On Tuesday we highlighted an encampment just south of the Ross Island Bridge that was overflowing with bike parts and frames. The person who sent us photos for our story suspected that the parts and frames were stolen. After hearing about the encampment a day later, Portland Police Bureau Officer Dave Sanders and his partner Officer Bryant went to take a closer look.
They rolled up on ATVs and filmmaker Guthrie Straw (who you might have met at the Bike Theft Summit) just happened to already be there capturing B-roll for his upcoming documentary on stolen bikes.
In Guthrie’s footage below you can see the officers rifling through the parts. They found one frame (out of six) that was confirmed to be stolen. Also among the parts was a partially cut cable lock and various tools used to take apart the bikes.
In a follow-up interview with Officer Sanders, we learned the camp was abandoned when the officers rolled up. Sanders said the size and sophistication of the camp — and the fact that it was so brazen — was unprecedented. “The camp itself was pretty elaborate, like nothing I’d ever seen.”
In addition to what’s in the video, Sanders said they also found a pair of 18-inch bolt cutters.
Following the police investigation, the Portland Parks & Recreation bureau will come through and clean out the remaining parts and trash.
— We recently profiled Officer Sanders’ efforts to fight bike theft.
NOTE: An earlier version of this story attributed a comment about the legality of searches to Officer Sanders. We erred in that attribution and regret the mistake.
UPDATE, 3:52 pm: I contacted Officer Sanders to make sure we had the facts straight in terms of the legality of searching this encampment. He said (as I originally reported) that the PPB is not required to obtain a search warrant on abandoned camps that are on public property. While search and seizure rules are complicated and depend on the “totality of the circumstances present,” Sanders added that they also did not obtain a warrant because there were no security measures in place on the tarps or enclosures, “that would imply someone was residing here and wanted others to stay out.” The fact that the frames were laying out in the open also allowed the PPB to seize them. This particular site was also posted with a notice by the Parks department that everything left on 12/31/14 would be hauled away and disposed of.
It’s great to hear of some action by the PPB.
Does a “camp” need to be both abandoned and on public property before the police can stage a raid without a warrant?
Likely. Just like you can tell a cop to get probable cause and arrest me, get a warrant and search me, or get the f*** out of my face, so can a homeless person with their possessions.
Is a warrant required when everything is out in the open? It’s not like they are searching your house, car or person. I see collections of stuff everywhere these homeless ‘camp’ out. I can’t help but think 99% of what is there – bikes, tents, stoves, etc etc – is all stolen. Personally, I think allowing these camps to exist is part of the problem. Not to mention a huge eyesore to everyone and gives a poor image of our city to visitors.
just sittin here groovin on the idea a homeless person has no fourth amendment rights
they don’t if they leave evidence of their crime sitting out on an MUT in plain sight.
“evidence of their crime”
those frames could have changed hands multiple times. hearsay is not evidence.
possession of stolen property?
possession of stolen property is only an alleged crime if the recipient knowingly receives, conceals, stores or disposes this property.
Police can still recover stolen goods, regardless if you think its not stolen.
Sure looks like probable cause.
Yeah, the guys with literally 20 disassembled stolen bikes sprayed all over the place care about personal rights. Good one.
Well since you find it problematic, the constitution doesn’t apply.
I just added the following to the post:
NOTE: An earlier version of this story attributed a comment about the legality of searches to Officer Sanders. We erred in that attribution and regret the mistake.
I was not as careful as I should have been on the part about the search warrant. I will seek a more detailed clarification from Sanders and update the story ASAP.
As stated earlier, I asked Sanders for a clarification on the search/seizure issue. Here’s the update I just posted:
I contacted Officer Sanders to make sure we had the facts straight in terms of the legality of searching this encampment. He said (as I originally reported) that the PPB is not required to obtain a search warrant on abandoned camps that are on public property. While search and seizure rules are complicated and depend on the “totality of the circumstances present,” Sanders added that they also did not obtain a warrant because there were no security measures in place on the tarps or enclosures, “that would imply someone was residing here and wanted others to stay out.” The fact that the frames were laying out in the open also allowed the PPB to seize them. This particular site was also posted with a notice by the Parks department that everything left on 12/31/14 would be hauled away and disposed of.
Burning man used to have a pretty good guide on searches and tents etc, if the tent is zipped it is protected, if the tent is open and stuff is in plain view not so much, etc…
Just two weeks ago I passed by that tarp/bike graveyard and heard a woman inside screaming bloody murder. While others passed by, I stopped and called 911. I passed by later after the cops had arrived and they were talking to a obviously distraught woman. I never found out what happened. I was hoping first, that the woman was okay, and two, that the incident might help get that thing on the cops’ radar. Regardless of how it happened, I’m glad that place is getting some attention
Thanks for your concern and action Tonyt!
With the unfortunately limited number of people who actually have the serial numbers for their bikes, I’m not surprised that only 1 of 6 came back as actually “hot”.
This is good work by the PPB! Just sad it took this long (with likely a big push from this site).
BikePortland should do a write up on the proper way to lock up a bike, where to find your bike serial number, and how to log it online.
1 in 6 isn’t that bad considering. I really ought to start tracking ALL of my serial numbers. I only have a few of my main bikes. I wish parts had serials too, like my seat, wheel and other parts that have been stolen.
… this is why we urge everybody, all the time, to get their bikes registered.
Please please please register your bikes & serials over at bikeindex.org – it’s free. And that way we’ll be able to get them back, when they pop up in places like this…
doing it as I read these comments
Thank you PPD
I’m shocked, shocked I tell you, that there’s mounting evidence that connects homeless camps with bike theft!
Also, Parks and PPB swept the campers out of the fenced-in area under I-5 between the Steel/Burnside bridges, where Jonathan found his stolen bike. At one point, there was a pile of frames and parts out in the open (http://ow.ly/i/81qqs).
yep, as much as some of the bikeportland crowd wants to be PC and not offend anyone. anyone who would break into their home or cut their lock and steal their possession the first chance they get.
“there’s mounting evidence that connects homeless camps with bike theft!”
I don’t think anyone has disputed that there is an (unknown) overlap between homeless camps and bike theft. The problem I (and I think several others who post here) have is the implication that homeless camps=bike thieves and bike thieves = homeless camps. This to me is both improbable and unhelpful because it amounts to profiling on the flimsiest of evidence. As Alan 1.0 pointed out below, this operation in question is in all likelihood one of the least profitable and least well run operations, but being outdoors it is the easiest to bust. We should be careful to conclude from this anything about the larger demographics of bike theft operations. Mean, anti-homeless jabs do nothing to advance our understanding of the actual problem, and cloud your posts here on this topic.
“but being outdoors AND ON PUBLIC LAND it is the easiest to bust.”
Isn’t this how the system is supposed to work though? The police have probable cause (apparently didn’t need it though due to the location). The police investigate and search. The police find stolen goods. The parks dept. cleans up a “dumping ground”.
I don’t think anyone is claiming that all homeless are bike thieves, but would just like the police to investigate the camps with a crazy abundance of bikes/parts a little more. The adage where there is smoke there is fire seems to be a little relevant regarding this situation.
Let me make a correction there:
There’s nothing to say that the others are or aren’t if the serials weren’t recorded by their owners.
good catch John. I’ve edited the story.
Or if the serials were scratched off.
one in six for which the had numbers, not scratched off. listen more closely. also no indication how long ago the [gary fisher] frame they did i.d. as “hot” was stolen. in other words, it might later have been abandoned, and the people operating this camp might have scavenged it.
So I take it you see nothing fishy about having frames with serial numbers scratched off?
Being in possession of stolen property is still a crime, isn’t it?
i guess different people hear different things when they listen to this clip. what i heard was they ran six numbers and one came back “hot.”
Yes, I heard that too. I’m guessing there were frames there though that they couldn’t run (due to no numbers).
I guess I was more correcting this statement: “They found one frame (out of six) that [could be confirmed as] stolen.”
It should likely be: “They found one frame (out of six that had serial numbers) that could be confirmed as stolen.”
And to play devil’s advocate, there is nothing to say that the people who ran this camp knew the frame was stolen. I’ve sold several bikes on craigslist and the buyers never once asked a question about provenance…
are you actually serious?
You don’t have to know that goods are stolen to be convicted of theft by recieving, you only need to have a reason to believe. In fact you can be convincted of attempted theft by receiving even if the property wasn’t stolen if you thought it was or had reason to believe that it was.
” if you thought it was…”
good grief, so now we are prosecuting people for “thought crimes”?
PS: ever heard of pawn shops, ebay, and craigslist?
“Notes of Decisions” regarding “Theft by receiving” addresses some of that:
Awesome but way scary to think spring water is just junked out now 🙁
Us, as vigilantes, can help provide probable cause by reporting when we see bikes that have been reported stolen. Of course, that means checking stolen bike reports, but if we maintain our diligence in terms of reporting what we see, we can do our part. If you do this, be sure not to fabricate.
Action is much more helpful than graring on the web.
I think the officer’s comment about completely dismantling bikes is a great point.
If this were an operation trying to legitimately just fix up bikes and make them rideable, why would there be so many bakes/frames stripped down to the bone? Wouldn’t there be more frames/bikes where just the broken components were removed/replaced? The officer made an interesting suggesting of a correlation between mental illness and striping these frames for no apparent reason.
pretty sure I saw a bottom bracket facing tool in a Hilti box in that video… don’t be so quick to judge
They probably took tools when they were taking the bikes.
Wait, they’re not going to stake out the crime scene and wait for the perps to return?
(half-joking, I think)
power of the voice and interwebs…
There is a storage unit complex that I rode by last weekend immediately east of Foster Rd out on the Springwater Trail. There was a pickup truck, three sketchy dudes, with the truck AND a unit filled to the brim with scrap metal and bike frames. I surmise the majority of thefts just go into scrap metal which is entirely disheartening.
This whole charade presented at the bike summit that the thefts are for the down and out get to work and mobilize is wishful and naive thinking. These chop shops are fueling methamphetamine addictions, period.
There’s a lot of cognitive dissonance around here!
As a foreman for an iron erection company, who often gets the option to turn the in building scraps as part of my bonus I can tell you right now no one is steeling frames en mass for the scrap money.
Depending on the preparation, steel sells at recycling centers right now at around 10 cents or lower a pound. Aluminum sells for around 50 cents a pound.
So your typical bike frame is worth around $1.50 (3 lbs of Alloy) – $2.00 (10 lbs steel) at the scrap yard if you prep it. Half that if you don’t prep the material for the yard first.
Thanks, I was curious about that. Seemed to me like the bikes would still be worth more whole than for scrap (unless they were in horrendous shape).
So what you’re saying is 7 aluminum bicycle frames = 1/4 gram of meth.
Sorry my math was wrong, around 14 aluminum bike frames.
I’m not sure how much meth costs – don’t really care too.
But by prepped (the premium price)I will tell you you’d need to remove all the parts not made of the same material that makes up the frame, then also cut any of the tubes down to less than 3′ in length.
“There was a pickup truck, three sketchy dudes, with the truck ”
Could you please describe what constitutes sketchiness in a dude’s appearance or demeanor? Does it have something to do with facial hair, piercings, tattoos, etc? As someone who is about to emigrate from Hawaii to Portland in the next month or so, I will find this information practical and useful.
Good work PPB! Clean them out!
Besides the stolen bike frame, there is also the matter of leaving a pile of crap on our public land next to our public bike trail. That is a public park. Not a frigging trash dump.
I don’t understand why there is any warrant issue. This is not a person’s house, car, or body. These are piles of stuff illegally stored on public property. The police and rangers should be able to sweep all this stuff up and cart it straight to the dump.
I think part of the problem, and I am guilty of this, is that we pass these sites everyday on our commutes/rides/walks/runs etc and never do anything about it. Looking back now I should’ve called the PPB last week as I passed and watched these ***word deleted for being insulting and insensitive*** rummaging around obviously stolen parts. Maybe if PPB received daily calls from us they would start acting quicker on these encampments.
What do you expect when we as a whole have a “put a bird on it” mentality when dealing with these issues?
“***reference to aforementioned insensitive word deleted***“??!
That sort of labeling does absolutely nothing to address the underlying problems, and indicates a total lack of disregard for the humanity of the people forced outside by poverty and/or mental illness.
If it goes unchallenged it also doesn’t do much for the reputation of other bikeportland readers.
If they stole my bike I’d be pissed, but the theft wouldn’t make them any less human in my eyes, nor any more deserving of such labels.
“If it goes unchallenged it also doesn’t do much for the reputation of other bikeportland readers.”
Thanks for calling out that comment Beth. I have deleted the insensitive label. Sorry it stayed up for so long. I remind all readers to please email/text/msg me if you see anything offensive in a comment. Thanks.
Thanks Jonathan (and Beth for agreeing) for censoring that comment so fast. I found Josh’s comparison of the alleged bike thieves to Sand People (better known as the proud Tusken Raiders of Tatooine) to be coarse and a gross affront to all of the indigenous peoples of Tatooine. As a huge fan of the world of Star Wars, I will never hesitate to comment when I feel the reputation of the Tusken people has been besmirched by the common folk that inhabit the planet Earth.
Good work PPD, and big thanks to the person who registered their bike, and a nod to whatever registry they used (anyone know?). Getting their frame back might be just a consolation for them but for the rest of us it means that this take-down was more than just successful, that cops can point to it as confirmation that such open-air chop shops really, provably, do have stolen goods in them. Finding bolt cutters was a nice touch, too. That all should make subsequent actions easier for the boss cops, city managers, maybe even judges issuing warrants, to approve.
I’m also hopeful that this seizure, and a few more like it, will get the word out on the streets that open-air chop shops aren’t a good business model. I expect that word traveled pretty fast that this operation lost everything, so hopefully others will reconsider involvement in similar operations.
I have a few concerns about what happens next:
I suspect the “squeezing the balloon” theory will have some truth to it, and that there will be a black market shift in low-end theft and conversion. Who knows what – stereos? phones? tools? home burglary? mugging? None of that’s to say that cracking down on bike theft wasn’t overdue or shouldn’t have been done, just awareness that markets respond in many ways to different forces, and black markets will keep doing dark and dirty things.
Those outdoor chop shops seem to be the bottom of the barrel. The bikes are mostly low-end. They aren’t well hidden. There seems to be very low, if any, profit margin at the resale end. They are the lowest hanging but not the only fruit. That means that higher-end thieves and fences are still operating at scale, and mid- and higher-end bikes are as vulnerable as ever. Those crooks are going to be harder to bust since they aren’t operating literally out in the open, they’re hidden behind walls where warrants are essential and where passersby see little of operation.
When those higher-end fence shops get busted, it will really help the cops make their case if they come up with known-stolen serial numbers among the frames they seize. Register your bike!
The piece I’m missing is why this isn’t at minimum littering. It’s public land, it’s technically illegal to camp there, any items left there when no one is around has got to be considered “abandoned property”, right? Why would the PPB need a warrant to clean it up? I would assume trash is considered a health n safety issue, not a 4th amendment issue.
Regarding the actual number of stolen frames found: I’ve been pinging Guthrie because he was awesome enough to also call one of the frames here into River City – one that hadn’t been reported stolen yet – and flag that one too. So, just to clarify, multiple stolen bikes were ID’d from this camp (at least one of which came through us/BikeIndex) but I’ve asked him to comment here and clarify
p.s. Alan, drop me a line sometime, I’d like to pick your brain sometime after chatting with you at the summit 🙂
Congratulations, you have “cleaned-up” a camp lived in by the least among us, made your ride more pleasant, and marginally reduced theft of bikes. Don’t think you have solved any problems. The homeless had to go somewhere else and bike theft won’t go away as a result.
The rest of us are poorer. The homeless are not rats. They are human beings. If you volunteered 5 hours a week preparing and serving a meal for the homeless, you would have a better appreciation of that fact. They are the cast-offs, the rejects, the unwanted of our society. Shame on you.
You missed an opportunity to be a force for positive change and revealed yourself to be just another self-centered community advancing a narrow self-interest. There are solutions that serve everyone’s interests, but they require caring about people other than your own group.
After decades, I don’t know if I want to be identified as an avid bicyclist anymore.
It is unfortunate, and to me still surprising, that the bikeportland readership includes as many people as these threads suggest, who are pleased to cheer the (verbal) abuse of the homeless population, for one more round. As you say, it suggests they are not all that familiar with the actual people this category includes; have perhaps not interacted with them – as people.
oh, OK, so its OK with you that they’re stealing other people’s belongings because they’re people and lack hugs and kisses by society after doing so. awesome.
the insensitive, hostile, and prejudiced comments in this thread and the previous one have caused me to be completely disinterested in advocacy in this area (and i’ve had 4 bikes stolen).
Can you expand on these other solutions?
Here are some solutions.
–look homeless people in the eye and speak directly with them when you encounter each other on the street. Most homeless people are not “bad” or even malicious; they are starved for human connection, no matter how small.
–if you ride past places where you know there’s a lot of bicycle traffic, pay attention to your surroundings and if a group of folks comes out from behind the bushes, pedal harder and keep riding; wave as you go by. **If you do not feel safe riding alone on the Springwater, then don’t. It is okay to admit that you don’t feel safe in a situation and others should not give you grief about it. Choose an alternate route for the short-term.
–if you can afford it, carry extra bus tickets (or, if appropriate, Sisters meal coupons) so if someone asks for money you can offer them a bit of help. When they thank you,**look them in the eye**, just as you might anyone else who is speaking to you.
2. Macro level:
— contact your Neighborhood Association and/or the City of Portland if you feel unsafe riding on the Springwater. Consider writing a letter that illustrates where you normally ride and why you’ve stopped. Be specific. Make your story personal and ask what the city is doing to address the issues stated in your letter. The city only knows about how scary it can be for some of us if we tell them.
–Contact organizations that help the homeless (Join, Transition Projects, Outside In, Lift Urban Portland, Community Warehouse, Central City Concern) and ask them for ways to advocate to help homeless people get off the streets and into housing. Getting housed is one of the best ways to reduce a homeless person’s likelihood of falling into threatening or criminal situations. Consider volunteering a few hours a month with one of these excellent organizations to help make a difference at the local level.
–Contact your elected officials and tell them you value more affordable housing development in all sectors of the city, and increased funding for public transit. Consider becoming an advocate for affordable, fair housing in Portland and elsewhere. If you cannot give of your time, give of your money to organizations that do advocacy work.
3. **Keep riding your bicycle!**
Choose sustainable transportation whenever possible to reduce impact on the urban environment — and to send the message that people of all stripes and income levels can choose to live a less car-centric life — thereby improving the overall quality of life in our city.
4. Believe in the power of the individual to effect change. Even on the smallest scale, what we do matters.
= compassionate comment of the week.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Andy.
Just like you are reminding us to not paint everyone who lives outside with the same brush, please don’t paint everyone who cares about bicycling with the same brush.
I don’t identify as an “avid bicyclist” nor as a member of the “cycling community”. I am Jonathan Maus, someone with a diverse set of perspectives and viewpoints and someone who loves riding bikes and cares deeply about bicycling from a public policy/planning/social issue.
There are many different opinions expressed on this site.
In my opinion, this particular situation is not a missed opportunity because this is an ongoing issue that is far from being over. As someone involved with the bike theft problem in Portland I can assure you that your sentiments are shared by myself and many others around the table. Thanks.
I am sure that it is not what you intended, but if you look back over your posts, particularly before the edits, and you look at the comments that resulted, I think you can see that you have approached the issue of the homeless from the narrow perspective of a bike advocate, in particular someone whose bike was stolen by a homeless person when you left it unlocked, and disregarded the plight of the homeless. You favor “cleaning up” the homeless camps, a non-solution that disperses the homeless and takes away their meager possessions. If you had taken a more positive approach, you could have looked toward more constructive and compassionate solutions that would more broadly address real concerns that Springwater Trail users have and help the homeless at the same time. See, e.g., http://ijpr.org/post/alternatives-homeless-campers.
What if we got behind a proposal to create a homeless encampment somewhere along the Springwater Trail along the lines suggested in the reference, for example? Such an encampment would be much easier for the police to keep an eye on and give the homeless a safe place where they would be welcome. There is reason to believe that the homeless folks would pitch in.
You can “clean up” the homeless camps along the Springwater Trail, but your implicit assumption that this will somehow make a significant dent in bike theft is almost certainly wrong. Even if the homeless are responsible for a significant share of bike theft, which I am not aware of any evidence to support, dispersing them won’t accomplish anything. Let’s turn our attention to more positive, compassionate approaches to address Springwater Trail issues. Let’s also turn our attention to a more thoughtful analysis of the bike theft problem, which is real and important.
Thanks for taking time to comment.
I strongly disagree with your assessment of my actions and intentions.
I do not think I’ve approached this issue with the “narrow perspective of a bike advocate.” I have never “disregarded the plight of the homeless” and if the words I’ve typed make it seem like I have, than I regret that (but I’ve tried to be very careful with this issue from Day One).
And contrary to your comment, I have never said, nor do I “favor” cleaning up the camps as a solution. I think people should know the camps exist and that criminal behavior should be dealt with in a reasonable way by the appropriate authorities.
And you write your comment in a way that makes it seem like this one post is the sum total of all my actions/perspective on this issue. That couldn’t further from the truth. I am deeply concerned about the homelessness issue and very much want to find a more humane and long-term solution. I don’t write about that here on BikePortland directly because, well, this is a bike blog, not a homeless advocacy blog.
That’s not to say I won’t continue to address the homeless issue as I cover bike theft.
I love your ideas and energy to focus on solving the larger problems at play here… But I also believe that we must act to do something about the encampments when the activity in them reaches a point where enforcement is necessary.
And, just like mental health and homeless advocates have turned to the police as a key partner to ensuring more humane outcomes for the communities they represent (did you read about the new PPB directives about mental health today?), I think turning to the PPB and seeing how they can help on this issue is a good first step.
I would like to think that people who care about bike theft and safe use of the Springwater can join with existing homeless advocates to forge partnerships and build capacity for what is obviously a large and complex problem.
Obviously the correct course of action would have been for Jonathan to not write about the camps and the possible (likely) connection to bike theft.
After all, we wouldn’t want to displace the bike thieves from OUR parks (the parks should belong to everyone, not just the homeless with an easement for other users).
And where do you draw the line. People are avoiding the trail because they don’t feel safe. Should that be ignored? People are pissed that their bikes are being stolen and evidence suggests that a fair amount of this activity can be traced to these illegal camps. I would bet most if not all posting here do have compassion for most of the homeless but if it becomes a public safety issue don’t assume the right to tell others how they should feel.
I guess we just have very different interpretations of what compassion looks like in comments to a blog.
I don’t think anyone is saying ignore the problem; but some of us are trying to suggest that we should be able as a society, or a bikeportland readership, to avoid painting with such a broad brush: demonizing, disrespecting a whole swath of our society who are in no position to fight back, contradict these stereotypes.
Does two officers following up on a lead really constitute a “raid”?
Seems like sensational headlining.
Good point Mike. “Raid” wasn’t the best word choice. I just changed the headline.
Thank you, PPB and Officer Sanders. Keep up the good work.
I rode by there yesterday am and pm and it was not abandoned or dismantled. A man was blatantly messing with a frame and wheels (looked like dismantling one) as I rode by.
BikeIndex often features a success story of a returned bike on their homepage. I’d like to share today’s story (emphasis mine):
A homeless man found it abandoned, brought it to The Bicyle Repair Shop and asked if they could find out if it was a stolen bike. They found it on BikeIndex and called me up. That evening I got the bike back mostly intact — thanks!