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Bait bike programs trace thefts but can struggle to convict, KATU reports

Posted by on November 4th, 2015 at 8:35 am

With Reed College’s bait bike program dealing with enforcement challenges, local ABC affiliate KATU-TV is shedding more light on the thorny issue of theft deterrence.

In the most recent case, KATU reported yesterday, one of the bikes that the college has equipped with a GPS unit was tracked to a “chop shop hidden behind [a] bookcase.” But nobody was arrested, because there was no easy way to prove that any specific person in the house had done the deed.

In another case, one of the bait bikes went missing, along with its GPS unit. (Each GPS unit costs an estimated $2,000 and requires a data plan just under $100 a month.)

KATU quotes Bryan Hance of BikeIndex.org, a fan of bait bike programs. Hance argues that when bait bike programs are successfully tracking down a few chop shops, they’re functioning as deterrents to Portland’s growing problem of bike theft.

“I’m sure they’re getting 10 times the value ‘cause the word does get out, ‘Don’t steal bikes at Reed,'” said Bryan Hance, who runs BikeIndex.org.

Hance would like to see Portland police create a bait bike program as part of its Bike Theft Task Force.

“It’s worth putting these bait bikes out there,” said Hance. “It is worth chasing them through the community because you always find something crazier at the other end.”

In the case of the bait bike recovered from an abandoned Southeast Portland home, none of the people at the home was arrested.

“There has to be enforcement behind it,” said Hance. “There has to be prosecution.”

Hance says bait bike programs are most effective when the bikes are more than $1,000 in value, which would bring a felony theft charge against the person accused of stealing the bike.

That’s the most maddening thing about bike theft enforcement, of course: cheap bikes are stolen just as often as expensive ones, and the loss of a bike can matter far more to the life of someone riding a cheaper bike — as much as a car theft might to someone who has more money.

As we’ve reported, some bait bike stings are effective. Earlier this year, Clackamas County sheriff’s deputies managed to trace a Reed bait bike to a moving van that also included several other bikes, stolen property and some methamphetamine. Two men in the van were arrested.

There’s no question that bike theft is a serious problem, and police statistics show that it’s been getting more serious. The fact that the spike in bike thefts followed Portland’s 2007-2010 bike boom, rather than going along with it, suggests that many thefts aren’t merely crimes of opportunity; they’re premeditated to some extent and require an organized resale network.

bike theft trend

Chart: BikePortland. Data: Portland Police Bureau via PSU Criminal Justice Policy Research Institute.

KATU reporter Reed Andrews noted that even if Reed’s program is successfully deterring theft there, it may just be driving would-be thieves elsewhere unless other programs exist, too. He asked the city and Portland State University whether they’re considering bait bike programs of their own. PSU noted that it’s working to deter bike theft by constructing secure bike parking garages that can house a minority of its students’ and faculty’s bikes.

Portland police “would only say they’re looking into bait bikes as an option,” Andrews said.

Update 11/6: PSU transportation and parking services director Ian Stude writes to add more about the university’s perspective.

At this time, PSU is not actively working on a “bait bike” program, however, we would welcome the opportunity to work with the PPB and their Bicycle Theft Task Force on such a program.

Your article references the investment in secure bicycle parking on campus as a strategy to deter bicycle theft. It is important to note this is not our only effort to reduce the frequency of theft. We also do the following:

  • PSU sells discounted U-Locks to students and employees at our campus bike shop, the PSU Bike Hub.
  • Also, the PSU Bike Hub does not sell cable locks or easily defeated locks. We acknowledge these types of locks are not sufficient for parking a bicycle in the central city and not selling them provides another opportunity to educate our community about how to lock a bike properly.
  • Most PSU bicycle racks have a decal affixed that provides instruction for proper bicycle locking that will reduce the likelihood of theft.
  • Information about proper bicycle locking techniques and the inadequacy of cable locks is contained in all New Student Orientation materials related to bicycling.
  • PSU Campus Public Safety Office monitors all reports of bicycle theft on campus and works to deter theft when possible. It is not uncommon that individuals suspected of bicycle theft are directly engaged by our Campus Safety Officers, sometimes resulting in those individuals being detained and transferred to PPB custody.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org


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. Thank you — Jonathan

62 Comments
  • 9watts November 4, 2015 at 8:55 am

    They couldn’t pin it on any single individual? Hide a gopro in the bushes facing that inviting entrance, see who comes home, eh?

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    • John Liu
      John Liu November 4, 2015 at 9:17 am

      What difference would that make?. Living in the house isn’t proof that the person stole the bike. And presumably after the police raid, the thieves won’t be bringing more stolen bikes there for awhile.

      I suggest parking bait bikes in locations watched by videocameras. The bike is moved, the GPS alerts on the motion, security goes to the location and catches the thief with the bike. Possession, fingerprints, tools, video evidence. This would require a real time response.

      Prosecutors also need enough resources to file and pursue the cases. Is the county on board with prioritizing bike theft?

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      • Tom Hardy November 4, 2015 at 11:56 am

        In the KATU case. Police probably could not be bothered to do a fingerprint check. Therefore! They could not figure out who may have stolen it.

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      • Craig Gifen November 4, 2015 at 1:39 pm

        “What difference would that make?” was what I thought when I saw this article about bait bikes. So what if they actually caught the person red handed. Would the person even face any sort of jail time?

        I have two homes near me openly dealing heroin (with bike chop shops in the backyards). Multiple police officers have told me if they were to build a case and arrest the people, they would be out again with no bail, and business would be open again by the evening. The PPB is so understaffed right now (and jails overcrowded) that they can only prioritize violent crime, which bike theft is not. Booking someone, giving them a court date they will miss, and turning them loose makes the whole “treatment vs jail” argument a bit moot.

        Jonathan, have you ever followed up on what actually happens to people who have been caught stealing bikes? It is nice to read headines about people being caught, but I’m starting to become so cynical about the crime in Portland that “getting caught” seems more like a productivity annoyance to thieves rather than any sort of deterrent.

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    • 9watts November 4, 2015 at 11:58 am

      ” Living in the house isn’t proof that the person stole the bike. ”

      The newsfolks claimed the house was abandoned. Therefore I figured it was probably fair to assume anyone sneaking into the basement to stash more bikes, or whatever, would be a likely suspect. And if they say they have no idea, then perhaps they need to be asked a few pointed questions….

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      • Randall S. November 6, 2015 at 8:38 am

        I can’t tell if your intentionally advocating police brutality, or whether it was accidental.

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        • 9watts November 6, 2015 at 8:43 am

          I was suggesting constructive engagement with a little creativity rather than the shrug which seems increasingly common. Although there are a few folks who post here regularly who delight in visualizing vigilante violence, or verbally abuse poor or homeless people, that is not my gig. I would much prefer we as a society figured out a nonviolent way to solve these issues.

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    • Buzz November 4, 2015 at 6:24 pm

      Haven’t they ever heard about checking the bikes for fingerprints? I hear it works.

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  • 9watts November 4, 2015 at 8:58 am

    gun-related crimes down 83% in 18 years?! Wow.

    Maybe we can redeploy some of the police who used to focus on those crimes?

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    • Alan 1.0 November 4, 2015 at 10:26 am

      That stat needs more info. Oregonlive shows 157 PPD reports of gang-related violence this year (Jan 1 – Oct 22), all but three with guns. Hales has spoken about it, too, so he’s not likely to pull cops from that beat.

      PPD Bike Theft Task Force is active: https://twitter.com/PPBBikeTheft/ but I’m sure they could use more officers.

      Might just be normal variability but looking at Bikeindex’ list of “stolen near you” it seems like the last couple weeks have slowed down a little.

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      • canuck November 4, 2015 at 10:56 am

        You can have overall gun violence drop, but a subset of that same issue increase. As in this case gang related gun violence is on the rise but not enough to increase the stats on the problem as a whole.

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        • Alan 1.0 November 4, 2015 at 11:05 am

          Yes. The graph’s data only goes to 2013. Total numbers might be low enough that even small changes result in the high percentage 9watts figures. And/or other. The stat needs more info to make it meaningful.

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          • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
            Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 4, 2015 at 12:23 pm

            I agree it’d be great if the PSU data set were updated to include 2014 and 2015 data. The PPB’s crime stats website doesn’t use the same categories so I don’t know how to update the PSU data set myself.

            As of 2013, in any case, according to the source data (linked just below the chart) there were about six gun crimes reported per 1000 Portlanders, so about 3,600 for the year.

            Gang-related violence, however that’s defined, might well be on the rise. But I haven’t seen coverage of whether gun crimes in general are.

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            • Alan 1.0 November 4, 2015 at 12:46 pm

              That’s a big enough N that the percentage is probably meaningful. Yes, the data are apples and oranges. But even so, in response to 9watts’ suggestion of moving cops from “guns” to “bike theft,” that is politically a tough sell in the face of crazy shooting violence in the streets, and I’d probably go along with the politicians on that one.

              I’m curious about early indicators of PPD BTTF’s effectiveness, possibly from BikeIndex stolen bike reports.

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              • bhance November 4, 2015 at 1:15 pm

                If you’re not following them on twitter, check out @ppbbiketheft – they’re pulling a lot of bikes back through BikeIndex, some of which are documented there. Other PPB officers, too, they’re just not tweeting about them all – FWIW I’ve had five “hello this is PPB officer X, we recovered your bike, please call” emails in the last three days.

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              • Alan 1.0 November 4, 2015 at 1:32 pm

                That’s great! I do look at BTTF’s twitter page sometimes, and really enjoy BikeIndex/news/. I’m wondering if there’s anything to see in BikeIndex’ numbers of bikes “Stolen with 100 miles of Portland,” like count-per-week or rolling average of interval between reported thefts? Seems to me the counts are down from a couple months ago, but that could be due to things like seasonal riding patterns or thieves heading south for the winter.

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            • Dead Salmon November 4, 2015 at 9:22 pm

              “6 gun crimes per 1000 people” has no statistical validity when discussing gun violence. If a driver has a concealed carry permit, gets stopped for a broken tail light, and the cop discovers that the driver has a gun in his pocket, but left his permit at home, that is a gun crime.

              If a law abiding grandmother who has carried her dead husbands .38 revolver in her purse for 20 years for self defense, but has no concealed carry permit, and a cop finds her gun, that is a gun crime; even if she has never heard of concealed carry permits.

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  • Paul November 4, 2015 at 9:08 am

    We had an impromptu bike bait program in Berkeley. An unlocked bike with its brakes disconnected at the top of a hill. We would yell, “STOP THIEF!”………hilarity ensued.

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    • Eric Leifsdad November 4, 2015 at 11:31 pm

      Hah. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0Ngfwr41U4 tie the rear axle to a tree and then give chase right after they faceplant.

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    • Dave November 5, 2015 at 1:12 pm

      Even better if it was a fixed wheel with no working brakes…………

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  • Todd Hudson November 4, 2015 at 9:10 am

    The Multnomah County DA doesn’t have the resources to focus on bike thieves, and has a policy of avoiding incarcerating non-violent offenders.

    That doesn’t mean bait bikes won’t work – being convicted of felony theft puts Measure 57 in play, which mandates tougher sentences for repeat property thieves.

    We shouldn’t be throwing people in jail for a theft conviction, but chronic thieves like Leroy Parsons (who got nailed again last month for stealing bikes) need escalating sentences.

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    • wsbob November 4, 2015 at 10:08 am

      “…We shouldn’t be throwing people in jail for a theft conviction, …” Todd Hudson

      Keeping bikes from being stolen is the primary goal. Locking more people up, giving them a police record or adding to one they already have, may be a system of diminishing returns toward the objective of having fewer bikes stolen.

      I don’t particularly recommend the show, but anyone interested in bait bikes, ought to consider watching a few episodes of the television show, Bait Car. Weirdness permeates the bait car operations and the show itself. The show goes a little overboard on presenting bait car operations and captures, as entertainment.

      One of the worst things though, is realizing that people caught, are up for a serious conviction, meaning they’re going to be sent to jail or prison to sit around all day…and guess who pays to keep them there?

      How it could be done well, I’m not sure…but somehow obliging people to do a far better job than seems to be routine now, of locking their bikes up, may be the better approach to reducing bike theft. As a means of encouraging more people to take greater measures towards keeping their bikes from being stolen, look into ways to fine the people that are not doing a good job of keeping their bikes locked up.

      Thieves will still steal bikes, but getting more people to personally take a preemptive stand against bike theft, could possibly do much more to fight bike theft than could any bait bike program, or hours and hours of police enforcement time, or locking people up for days, months and years.

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  • Endo November 4, 2015 at 9:44 am

    We *should* be throwing people in jail for theft conviction. Scumbags who steal bikes need harsh sentences, they make Portland a worse place by creating incentives for people to drive or take TriMet. Harsh sentences for bike thieves will push the others to move somewhere where it’s safer to do business. While it might cost more in the short term it’ll save us more in the long term.

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    • Spiffy November 4, 2015 at 10:08 am

      I’m hearing you want to pay to lock people up rather than helping them, and move the problem elsewhere so somebody else can deal with it…

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      • Endo November 4, 2015 at 12:42 pm

        Yup. That’s right. People who steal bikes for a living are beyond help. At that point the goal should be to create the strongest possible disincentives to the behavior and either they move some place without those incentives, they figure out some other way to support themselves, or we take them off the streets for a few years. That’s a win no matter what.

        How would you “help” bike thieves?

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    • eddie November 4, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Untrue, untrue, untrue. Longer jail sentences do NOT deter crime, they simply don’t. Plus, as I keep having to point out, it COSTS MONEY to keep someone in jail, by the latest account about $81 a day, all paid by taxpayers. Not to mention the ripple effect it has on the dependents of the person thrown in jail. You simply can’t just warehouse people and expect that act to solve the problem.

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  • JNE November 4, 2015 at 9:58 am

    “We shouldn’t be throwing people in jail for a theft conviction . . . .”

    Really?

    Long-term incarceration in this country is completely out of hand. At the same time, maybe we’ve lost sight of the benefits of short-term incarceration. What would happen if lots of these small time bike thieves were locked up for a year?

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    • Granpa November 4, 2015 at 10:06 am

      I know, I know…. they would not be stealing bikes. They would not be disassembling bikes to sell parts for drugs, they would not be living on the street, and creeping around peoples property.

      I suppose they would also be punished more than rehabilitated, but this is America, and that is how we roll.

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    • Spiffy November 4, 2015 at 10:09 am

      What would happen if lots of these small time bike thieves were locked up for a year?

      they’d have free room and board for a year and then be back to stealing bikes…

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      • Endo November 4, 2015 at 12:59 pm

        Which is why we need to send them away for 5 years instead of 1. And hey, at worst we just have 5 years without a bike thief on the streets. Sounds good to me.

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        • eddie November 4, 2015 at 3:01 pm

          No, because you’ll have more bike thieves due to the knock on effect of cumulative poverty. This isn’t a video game, you can’t just lock up a “scumbag” and then have one less scumbag around being a scumbag. They will be quickly replaced by another. But fortunately even the most conservative politicians don’t have your bizarre fetishistic notion of the penal system. If they did then there would probably be more people in prison than on the streets.

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    • wsbob November 4, 2015 at 11:22 am

      A web search for ‘cost of incarceration’ brings plenty of site links up. Here’s one:

      http://www.lao.ca.gov/PolicyAreas/CJ/6_cj_inmatecost

      Link summary 47,000/yr for prison.

      Here’s another:

      https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2013/03/18/2013-06139/annual-determination-of-average-cost-of-incarceration

      28,000/yr for federal inmates

      NY state: 60,000, the city, “cost per inmate” is 168,000 .

      http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/24/nyregion/citys-annual-cost-per-inmate-is-nearly-168000-study-says.html?_r=0

      The dollars for enforcement and incarceration add up very fast. People should be doing a better part first, of locking their bikes with more than a wish and a prayer.

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      • Endo November 4, 2015 at 12:57 pm

        I’d happily pay my share of $50,000 per inmate to take every bike thief off of the streets. Raise my taxes if you need to.

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        • eddie November 4, 2015 at 3:06 pm

          That’s impossible. Even if you personally went out and locked up each and every bike thief the population of thieves would immediately pop up and replace them.

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      • J_R November 4, 2015 at 1:54 pm

        I’m already paying the equivalent of hundreds of dollars a year due to losses from theft and vandalism of my home, car, business, and in insurance on them. I’ve been lucky, but have also worked hard. I resent having to pay for the losses I’ve incurred and for the insurance costs. I don’t like to have to pay for keeping criminals in jail either, but I’m tired of always paying.

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        • eddie November 4, 2015 at 2:57 pm

          But you’re going to have to keep paying either way. It’s not like you’re going to save money if more people are locked up in our insanely overcrowded prison system. If the root causes aren’t addressed, the problems will persist and no amount of human warehousing is going to change this.

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    • Tom Hardy November 4, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      It might cut down on unemployment.

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    • eddie November 4, 2015 at 3:11 pm

      Throwing them in jail for a year could drive their family into poverty, make them less employable upon release and traumatize them emotionally. Add more years, the problems become worse. Jail isn’t a panacea, and there is no evidence to suggest that it’s the least bit constructive for anyone concerned. Except for those unwilling to examine and address the underlying issues.

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  • Buzz November 4, 2015 at 10:08 am

    Translation: PPB gives lip service to caring about stopping bike theft, but they really don’t.

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  • rain waters November 4, 2015 at 10:19 am

    If you keep a bike in your living space there is less probability of theft. If you choose to leave it outdoors probability of theft increases greatly. This isn’t going to change no matter how many people throw however many resources into trying to make it otherwise.

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    • bryan November 4, 2015 at 10:28 am

      Common Sense: what’s that doing here?

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  • Champs November 4, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Most banks have exploding dye packs to mark thieves and their stolen goods. How much do those cost?

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    • Alan 1.0 November 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm

      Can they fit under a saddle cover?

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    • eddie November 4, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      I’m surprised no one has invented a car alarm like device for the bicycle.

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      • Todd Boulanger November 4, 2015 at 3:28 pm

        There have been many on the market…few have survived the test of time. It is a tough sell to bike owners to pay $100 for protection when their bike is worth $200 (or $500). Look at all the $15 to $20 locks used on bikes. (To put it in perspective: I doubt most car owners would pay $5k or $10k to protect their family car.)

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      • Pete November 4, 2015 at 3:29 pm

        Because they’re so effective for preventing auto theft?

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      • Dave November 5, 2015 at 1:52 pm

        A sales rep showed one 20 years ago when I worked at the Bike Gallery. Even then, people had already absorbed car alarm noise as just part of the urban/suburban soundscape. There was no treating as anything but a too-late joke.

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  • Captain Karma November 4, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Down south, they have county prisoners clean up the parks, sweep the gutters (aka bike paths), fix potholes etc., all in their stylish striped prison suits. Might be a deterrence, I dunno, but we’d get some basic maintenance done. I know, it would cost too much….

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    • eddie November 4, 2015 at 3:02 pm

      Slavery, down south? You don’t say!?

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      • Dave November 5, 2015 at 1:13 pm

        Sittin’ down there on Parchman Farm.

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    • J_R November 4, 2015 at 4:32 pm

      It’s also done in Multnomah County. Last Monday there was an inmate work crew doing clean-up and brush removal along the Springwater corridor between Bell Avenue and Johnson Creek Boulevard.

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  • Todd Boulanger November 4, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    It is an interesting side note about the PPB not fingerprinting the reported stolen bikes in a bike “chop shop” especially given the confined nature of the private location vs. in the public weeds along the Sellwood trail.

    I remember back to when the VPD in Vancouver WA willingly pulled fingerprints off the remains of my stolen half parted bike found in a neighbor’s yard…

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  • gutterbunnybikes November 4, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    I still partially (whom I fooling – largely) blame bicycle manufacturers for the problem, you easily install brazed on cafe locks on the seat stays and locking front forks though not common, were in use 50+ years ago. Simply making a bicycle difficult/impossible to ride off on or ghost bike would drop the theft rate significantly. After all it’s the perfect crime when you think about it – the item you are stealing is also a silent getaway vehicle as well.

    Of course I’m sure there are other ways make a bicycle more theft proof (something to lock the pedals or headset for example) from the manufacturing side, but everyone’s too busy trying to shave another gram off the frame weight or add another 10,000 lumens to a bicycle light instead.

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    • Dead Salmon November 4, 2015 at 9:33 pm

      The problem is not a few grams, it’s the 2 pounds, or whatever a U-lock weighs. BUT I always use my U-lock even though it’s a pain to haul it around, especially if you are going up hills.

      What type of lock did they have on the “bait” bike?

      I can’t believe they’d have a bait bike without cameras; and that they didn’t take fingerprintss after they found it.

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      • gutterbunnybikes November 5, 2015 at 4:07 pm

        The fork lock on my 71 Raleigh Superbe doesn’t weigh two pounds, neither does the cafe lock on it’s back wheel. To defeat either takes more time than it would take to saw off a U lock, and in both cases you’d be just as likely to destroy the bicycle in trying to remove them.

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  • joel November 4, 2015 at 5:58 pm

    id like to explore ways to track my bicycle or learn more.

    id like to learn where all the money goes from the stolen bikes- maybe a ‘vice’ article. is it really all drugs? or just nice camping gear.or are they supporting their family and paying off college tuition. bikes are a currency just like bottles and cans, scrap metal, peoples identities etc.

    it seems like there must be a better bike tracking way though. i think making it less easy, actually catching people, are both great deterents. lets make it less inviting or enticing of a crime.

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  • Mark November 4, 2015 at 9:05 pm

    Prison is to keep those who are dangerous from the populace. Bike theft isn’t a threat to anyone’s life or limb.

    It won’t stop…ever. Just go with it.

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    • Granpa November 5, 2015 at 9:32 am

      ! Just go with it ?! I refuse to accept that theft is an acceptable behavior.

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      • Alan 1.0 November 5, 2015 at 9:40 am

        Agreed. Here, have one of these: ¡

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  • barb lin November 4, 2015 at 9:35 pm

    Why in the heck does the GPS thing cost $2000 each?? I can find my phone, I can find my keys.

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  • Robert Burchett November 5, 2015 at 8:13 am

    Locking headset keyed to RFID chip in sport watch? Sounds like a merchandising opportunity. Of course you wouldn’t want it to fail JRA. Maybe the cafe lock after all.

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