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Police shut down notorious ‘Slabtown’ stolen bike chop shop

Posted by on September 8th, 2015 at 12:24 pm

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Inside the stolen bike chop shop that operated above Slabtown for years.
(Photos by Portland Police Bureau – Forensic Evidence Division)

Slabtown, the former bar and music venue at NW 16th and Marshall used to be known as a fun place to see punk rock shows. But ever since it shut down last year, the location has been known for something else: stolen bikes, drug dealing and shady activity.

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Corner of NW 16th and Marshall.

Reports about bike theft in the apartments above Slabtown have been coming into the police for about two years now. In October of last year an employee at Western Bikeworks contacted the PPB after seeing two bike “handoffs” right outside the building. After the bar closed for good, the activity ramped up. Yet despite numerous tips and suspicions the Portland Police Bureau never got the break they needed to enter the property and make a bust.

That all changed on July 30th.

Officer David Sanders, one of two PPB officers empowered by Chief Larry O’Dea to work on bike theft as part of the Bike Theft Task Force, was on patrol a few blocks away that afternoon. He had responded to a bike theft call.

“Through my involvement with the BTTF [Bike Theft Task Force],” he shared with us in an email last week. “I knew 1033 NW 16th is a hot spot for criminals to gather and I knew that the community has been increasingly complaining about this location and giving us useful information on the criminal activity there.”

“It was the most organized and entrenched bicycle chop shop I have seen downtown to date.”
— Officer David Sanders, Portland Police Bureau

Sanders referred to the apartments above Slabtown as “havens for criminals” and a “den of thieves.” He knew from sources and tips that drugs were dealt out of the apartments and it was a place where stolen bikes were regularly trafficked.

When Sanders rolled up to the location, he saw men he recognized from past stolen bike arrests and complaints. As he talked to the suspects, one of them said he got the bike he was on from someone in the apartments.

At this point, Sanders still didn’t have the proof or search warrant he needed to walk into the apartment to investigate. Then he got lucky. He looked up and saw two people walking down the stairs from the apartment. They were the owners of the building. They told Sanders that squatters were trespassing on the property and they wanted them to leave.

“They also confirmed that there were bikes and parts everywhere inside,” Sanders added.

This was Sanders’ big break. With permission from the building’s owners he finally got inside. Here’s how he described what he saw: “It was the most organized and entrenched bicycle chop shop I have seen downtown to date due to the magnitude and duration that it has been used as such.”

Photos from inside give us a peak into what happens to stolen bikes…

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Note the baggie full of bike lights.

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Anyone lose a cool Shimano poster?
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As you can by these police photos, the entire apartment was trashed. There were also obvious signs of a chop shop. There were bikes and parts scattered everywhere, some of them organized into baskets. In one of the images you can see a large plastic bag full of bicycle lights. There were also cans of spraypaint and a painting area where bikes would be stripped down and modified to avoid identification.

Ofcr David Sanders PPB

Officer Sanders.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Sanders said he also observed what he called “obvious stolen bikes” with U-locks still attached and frames that had been mangled and cut in the theft process. Another telltale sign of bike theft were cut cable locks and a bike helmet with its straps cut. There were also baskets of parts that had been stripped off.

Sanders estimates hundreds of stolen bikes have come through this apartment.

Two people were hiding inside the apartment and Sanders arrested them for warrants on unrelated crimes. While he believes the chop shop was run by a known “thieving street gang” it doesn’t appear that a major bike theft ring leader will be pinned to these crimes. That would take more time and investigation than the PPB is able to devote to it.

The Slabtown bust resulted in two truck loads of stolen bikes and parts. Sanders tried to remove as much of the higher-end goods as he could and the property division is still processing them.

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Frames and parts from the Slabtown bust await processing
in the property room.
(Photo: David Sanders, PPB)

Sanders chalks up this successful operation to the power of a connected and cooperative community, his expertise on the bike theft beat, his official mandate to pursue the problem, and a bit of luck. If the building owners weren’t there that day, the apartment might still be a chop shop.

“This type of cooperation is exactly what we need in the community and it makes our job much easier,” Sanders said during a recent interview.

While Sanders would have liked to make a stronger conviction related to the stolen bike activity, he’s happy that this notorious location is out of service.

He said someone recently tried to pry open the newly-locked door but was unsuccessful.

“Word has spread quick among those on the street,” said he added, “and I think they got the message that this is no longer the location to do their dirty work.”

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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Todd Boulanger
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Todd Boulanger

Congrats to all…

JR, eh
Guest
JR, eh

Good. I’d like my “Light-On” brand dyno headlight back. How do I find out if it is amongst the confiscated parts?

Aixe Djelal
Guest

This is great news. It would be great if the PPB would allocate the resources to identify a ringleader. I used to love seeing shows at Slabtown and it’s sad that the building turned into a chop shop. Here’s hoping the owners can get a handle on their property and convert it into something good again.

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

Thanks, Officer Sanders and PPB! Keep up the great work!

spencer
Guest
spencer

well done !

Captain Karma
Guest

There is probably still money or drugs hidden in there, thus the attempted break-in. Addictions are terrible, that’s what is running this trade.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

Yeah it’s tragic. I’m also concerned for the people out there who may have had their only means of transit or ability to make a living stolen, broken down, and sold just so some junkie can get their fix.

ReligiousWacko
Guest
ReligiousWacko

would it be cheaper for government to just offer free meth in far off cheap place ( Detroit, Vacaville, CA ) ?

Lance P.
Guest
Lance P.

Check out the Klein frame. I’m sure that is unique enough to find it’s way home.

Jolene
Guest
Jolene

I am contacting my bff in PDX to see if he can get a look at the Klein. His was stolen at Fred Meyer.

adam
Guest
adam

nice job. always wondered what happens to all those bikes in the property room?

Dave J.
Guest
Dave J.

I’d love to see someone push for a citywide bike registration program, one that would require all cyclists pay a small fee ($10-$20) to register their bikes. The program would not only link bikes with serial numbers in a citywide database (thus making post-theft recovery more possible), but you could then use the proceeds to fund an additional officer or two in the program. This is a program that would pay immediate dividends to the cycling community.

Jessica Roberts
Guest
Jessica Roberts

Dave, mandatory registration programs are akin to mandatory bike licensing programs, and both are generally considered bad practice for several reasons:

1. The cost to administer seldom is covered by the fee imposed.
2. Mandatory registration imposes an unfair burden on low-income people.
3. Police resources are seldom best spent on policing mandatory registration/licensing.
4. Of greatest concern, police sometimes use bike registration as a “pretext stop” to engage anyone they don’t like (hot tip: often cyclists of color). Please spend some time learning about the perils of “Biking While Black” and the ACLU/Bikes Not Bombs action in Massachusetts.

Here is an LAB paper on this subject. Their official position paper is a little softer, though.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Also, when a system is not at minimum statewide imposed, how do you deal with someone from the next town riding through town? You can hardly impose a license or registration fee on someone riding through Portland from Beaverton on their way to Gresham (or even taking their bike on the same route via MAX).

Adam H.
Guest
Adam H.

lol this again

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

People that ride bikes pay a lot of taxes already and don’t use as many services as the average driver (who damage roads, create pollution, and injure and maim people who then require emergency services). I think there is enough money to fund better bike theft work, we just need to adjust priorities. How about we take a few million from HUD and devote it to active transportation and theft enforcement?

longgone
Guest
longgone

No.

Justin Gast
Guest
Justin Gast

This is great news and a great start to hopefully one day overcoming this issue.

I wish Portland City Councilors passed an ordinance that allowed criminals to be caned for certain crimes. Sometimes a fine and a short stint in jail just doesn’t do the trick for certain individuals.

Gary B
Guest
Gary B

“If the building owners weren’t there that day, the apartment might still be a chop shop.”

Kudos on the job well done, but this statement is a little bit ridiculous. The officers suspected and had ample reason to believe there may be a chop shop (and other activity) happening inside. They found themselves unable to secure a warrant. But they never bothered before to contact the owner and ask for permission to enter?

Carter Kennedy
Guest
Carter Kennedy

It’s also strange that the owners, despite saying that they wanted the chop shop out of the building, never contacted the police on their own.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Yeah. “There’s a bunch of squatters living in my building and I don’t know what to do about it.”? How does one manage to acquire property without being able to figure out who to call about something like that?

Audrey
Guest
Audrey

So much carnage (bike-nage?)… I had hoped my stolen bike was out there somewhere, being happily ridden around on, but this is a sad reminder that it’s probably gone. RIP Tank, you were a great bike.

ed
Guest
ed

Nice to see, and great that in the words of Officer Sanders he “got lucky” but is that really all we have as a tool to bust these sorts of operations? To clarify, he said the break was because the owners happened to be there for him to talk to at that second. Let’s remember this place was a known criminal base (for years evidently) but the police were “powerless” to do anything about it. So a lucky break the owners happened to be there eh? Might it have been possible to have sent owners a letter… years ago?

I wonder this because the powerlessness of the police seems a bit relative and inconsistent. SWAT teams can be sent into apartments where there may or may not be a bag of pot. Elaborate multi million dollar stings can be done to persuade and set up a confused immigrant teenager to pretend to do a non-existent terrorist act. (ok that’s the Feds) But seems no issue to set up a dozen officers to catch cyclists rolling through obscure stop signs on back streets. Or, fill in your own list of rote and routine measures police utilize regularly. Do they seem to involve income generating citations and fines; perhaps not.

I don’t mean to appear unappreciative of any bit of attention the police may be able provide to stopping millions of dollars of theft in full pubic view and can’t pretend to know the intricacies of search warrants, search limitations etc. But before we celebrate this action too much, note the end of the article where it’s stated the ringleader (presumably known to those arrested as well as police) will get away scott free because the police won’t actually take the time to investigate further. (maybe send a letter, do an interview, seek this person out?) So the takeaway here seems to be: sometimes we’ll get lucky and the thieves will walk into the cage and lock the door behind them. Otherwise there’s not much we can do, right? I find the powerlessness of the police inexplicable here. I’ve attended meetings on this and heard officers talk; no disrespect to the street level police; they do what they’re directed to do. What I wonder about is the priorities and actual abilities of those directing vs. what we’re expected to believe.

Tired
Guest
Tired

Was thinking this same thing from the third sentence in the article on.

Saddened for everyone that had their bikes stolen in that two year time from when the police had all those “numerous tips and suspicions”, and was aware that “the community has been increasingly complaining about this location and giving us useful information on the criminal activity” to when they happened to just “get lucky.”

My guess is most of the thieves weren’t tied to a location. THIS location out of business? Next week, business as usual.

Talus
Guest
Talus

Agreed. For two years the police knew this was an operation, most probably with ties to a larger network. This was a squandered opportunity. Little has been accomplished here – no meaningful impact has been made on the stolen bike industry as a result of this action. We have two kids who might do some time, then get released and find their old network.
The confirmation of the property owners that there was a chop shop in the building would have been enough for a warrant. Yet no attempt was made to make a sting. If this was a car shop shop, I am sure things would have gone very differently.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Actually, I think a fair number of the car chop shops have quite the longevity themselves. One thing in their favor is that most of them aren’t located downtown, but rather on the fringes of town.

billy
Guest
billy

i had $100 worth of bike lights stolen off of my bike in broad daylight. It was locked in front of the REI right across from Slabtown. Any way I can see if my lights are there? I can see a PDW light in the right side of the plastic bag, which may be one mine. I can identify it.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

I watched a hipster looking guy case my bike there for a few minutes last summer. Once he noticed I was watching him through the window he walked away quickly. I imagine that store is a goldmine for the thieves.

kittens
Guest
kittens

WIN!
kind of…

Ed Birnbaum
Guest
Ed Birnbaum

Any good info about the market for this stolen stuff and any efforts to shut it down? The thieves aren’t stealing bikes and accessories mainly for their own use and would probably do a whole lot less stealing if they couldn’t sell stuff or couldn’t make enough from it to be worth while. I’ve never been approached by anyone offering to sell me anything of the sort. Are they selling it on the street or are there outlets that could/should be targeted? If there are, I think it would be more efficient and helpful to shut those down than to hope to catch elusive property owners, together with the thieves, in a known chop shop. All the while leaving the top of the food chain free to move elsewhere and easily recruit new, or even redeploy the old, foot soldiers. Any info or thoughts about this, Jonathan or fellow readers?
[BTW, I don’t see that my attempt to donate online went through. Is there a prob w/ this on the web site?]

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

I would like to know how many registered serial numbers they find. Guessing it’s around 5%, but I’m probably being optimistic. How about a serial number poll at some of these red stoplights on our bike commuter routes? “Do you have your serial number written down and know where to find it?” Haha, no just stop sign stings.

Dwaine Dibbly
Guest
Dwaine Dibbly

What does it take to get a building condemmed as a “public nuisance”?

Evan
Guest
Evan

would love more info on how the BTTF is doing and what progress has been made from the first meetings. THE “RECYCLERY” HAS MOVED TO A LOCATION JUST TWO BLOCKS AWAY, (AT 16TH AND NW OVERTON) A “BIKE SHOP” THAT HAS BEEN ACCUSED SEVERAL TIMES OF SELLING STOLEN BIKES.

Mossby Pomegranate
Guest
Mossby Pomegranate

Dave J.
I’d love to see someone push for a citywide bike registration program, one that would require all cyclists pay a small fee ($10-$20) to register their bikes. The program would not only link bikes with serial numbers in a citywide database (thus making post-theft recovery more possible), but you could then use the proceeds to fund an additional officer or two in the program. This is a program that would pay immediate dividends to the cycling community.Recommended 3

*cough* Cash grab *cough*

Scott Everson
Guest
Scott Everson

I haven’t owned a bike in 30 years, but remember having to register my bike ($5) when I was a kid. The registration should be voluntary, like chipping your pet for example

gerald schuldt
Guest
gerald schuldt

Does anyone know? What if a bike was stolen from out of town and found it’s way to this chop shop? Are frame serial numbers checked against a national stolen bike data base? As I read this article it’s not clear, it seems it’s the responsibility of each citizens to check for their specific loss against what is in the property room?

Christopher Sanderson
Guest

“It was the most organized and entrenched bicycle chop shop I have seen downtown to date due to the magnitude and duration that it has been used as such.”

Man, I’d hate to see what a disorganized bicycle chop shop looks like, because those pictures make it look like a freaking mess!

SE
Guest
SE

Great !! I applaud the result (tho those arrested are most likely back on the street “liberating bikes” as we read this), but 2 years ?

that’s 2 years when how many more were stolen ? My reading of the article is that the PPD rather fell into this bust. Sort of a passive collar ?

Rode SpringWater from 122 to Sellwood yesterday. The chop industry is alive and well there + LOTS of trash. (and NO sign of PPD) 🙁

Eric
Guest
Eric

Next the cops need to drive another 4 blocks up NW 18th. Under the Freemont Bridge is an open air chop shop. It’s one of the revolving homeless camps, there for three weeks then gone like it never existed. Last time it was there (maybe 3 months ago) the sidewalks were littered with dozens of bikes, frames, piles of components, etc…all out in the open. Made me sick every time it rode by.

KD
Guest
KD

Not a surprise, but if you zoom in you can see needle safety caps and a needle on the floor of two of the photos. Lets see if we can attract more junkies to Portland and then give them our bikes (sarcasm.)

dmc
Guest
dmc

That bag of bike lights makes me sick to my stomach.

TheRealisticOne
Guest
TheRealisticOne

First, congrats on finding one of the many chop shops around town! Bike thefts are not a priority, they simply can’t be with the funding issues. Sad but financially true. It’s pretty clear that the owners of the building are not the most upstanding of citizens. Not knowing what’s going on in your building is simply unacceptable. They may have not supported it, but they allowed some kind of “bad activity” to go on in their building. There is absolutely “NO” excuse for owners to conduct business this way. As far as bike thieves go, we can find them, they’re not hard to find, it takes desire. One shop I worked at some time ago had a known thief come in from time to time, we watched him carefully. Our team riders came in, found out this person was around and asked specifically who he was and if we minded if they had a private chat behind the building. Now, that’s not always the answer, but a little street justice might help. One of the best ways is to not buy a used bike that is sketchy, don’t give them a market.

Capizzi
Guest
Capizzi

Was the gold-rimmed bike in the first picture a stolen bike or used by one of the guys working the operation? I used to know the owner of that bike — worked the burrito stand at 9th/Multnomah in Lloyd.

RLH
Guest
RLH

couldn’t the big break have happened sooner by simply contacting the owners directly? I’m not in law enforcement and don’t understand the legal issues of that approach just curious

Scott Everson
Guest
Scott Everson

Hundreds of dollars every year come from my property taxes to pay for police retirement pensions. I’d rather have that money go towards police officers who are actually working, not kicking back and doing (currently) nothing to collect a check. I was living in NYC on September 11, 2001, please believe me when I say I have nothing but the utmost respect for men and women in uniform. Still, pay a pension or pay a police officer?

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

It seems that contacting the property owners should be “standard operating procedure” in any case when a building has turned into a public nuisance?

TM
Guest
TM

RLH
couldn’t the big break have happened sooner by simply contacting the owners directly? I’m not in law enforcement and don’t understand the legal issues of that approach just curiousRecommended 0

According to news reports the owner of that particular building was not responsive/did not respond to complaints and there were some legal issues involved too. Some of the squatters claimed they were tenants etc.

The owner in question has a bit of a history as well, if you do a little digging. Local TV covered this a while ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46q7o5ugYg8

Dan Packard
Guest
Dan Packard

Amazing!

Dan M.
Guest
Dan M.

I feel so much pity for the hopeless and addicted. At the same time, I hold zero sympathy for thieving scum that damage the mobility of others to secure a fix. I hope everyone on this board will show up in court and prosecute thieves to the fullest extent of the law.

And if you catch a thief, do not be kind. The hopeless and addicted deserve help and sympathy, but when they pivot to harming you, do not take it idly. Fight back in any and every way you can. People need help, but those who steal from you also deserve to pay for their crimes and criminal self interest.

9watts
Guest
9watts

Vigilantism = not helpful.
Profiling is real and you could easily be mistaken in your fight here.