This post is by Portlander Bryan Hance.
LeadsOnline runs the nation’s largest online investigation system used by thousands of law enforcement officers to monitor pawn shop and secondhand retailer transactions. Pawn shops across the country report their transactions to LeadsOnline in order to comply with local laws – and police use the site’s tools to search for, identify, and recover stolen goods from their own local police reports.
One of the first ‘hits’ was a bike that was stolen in Salt Lake City, Utah and pawned at a shop in Nevada — 400 miles away.
The Bike Index (just in case you aren’t familiar with us yet!) is a huge, free, volunteer-supported registry of bike ownership and stolen bike data. We work with hundreds of partners
across the world (including Bike Portland and the Portland Police) to register bikes – and of course, find and recover bikes after they are stolen. Our work has helped return over 3,400 bikes to date, and our data is used daily to ID and recover bikes through awesome partnerships like this.
No other bike registration system has such a partnership in place – and as hardcore anti-bike-theft nerds we are pretty excited about this. By giving LeadsOnline our stolen bike data, we’re closing a huge loophole thieves often use to ‘game the system’ by pawning bikes in different jurisdictions.
Learning about the pawn system has been a bit of a ‘deep dive’ for me. I first got interested in this after Bike Index recovered bikes stolen in PDX and sold to WA pawn shops. The victim’s inevitable “What about my police report? Shouldn’t that have flagged the bike when it got pawned?” question came up, so I started digging into how this happened.
Long story short? There are a lot of non-technical reasons – (patchwork laws, lack of police staffing, many non-linked cross-jurisdictional databases, delays for data moving from one system to another …) that complicate things. Let’s just say there are a lot of reasons why a bike stolen in “city A” doesn’t pop-up as stolen if it’s pawned in “city B” – even if the owner diligently filled out police reports with their bike’s serial number.
Again, this varies wildly from state to state and city to city, but that’s the gist. Even weirder, some states force victims to pay for their own stolen bike if it pops-up in a pawn shop – effectively allowing shops to ‘ransom’ bikes back to their rightful owners. In fact, friends of ours at CyclingUtah.com actually changed their local laws on this because
they were totally appalled at this idea of victims having to ‘ransom’ their own bikes back.
So how does this partnership impact you? It means that if you list your stolen bike in Bike Index, that info is instantaneously available to Leads Online’s tens of thousands of law enforcement users. If a thief tries to pawn that bike, it’ll be flagged – even if they take it across state lines, or all the way across the country. This of course is in addition to the tons of daily searches Bike Index already gets from riders, bike shops, other law enforcement users, and universities across the nation.
This also means that more stolen bike are going to come home: even during our ‘test’ phase, we fielded calls from police all over the country as they suddenly got stolen bike ‘hits’ in their Leads data. One of the first ‘hits’ was a bike that was stolen in Salt Lake City, Utah and pawned at a shop in Nevada — 400 miles away.
Stay tuned to bikeindex.org/news for our monthly stolen bike recovery stories, and let me know if you have any questions about this. Better yet, let me know if there’s an organization you would like to introduce to the Bike Index. We’re always looking for new partners. And PS – as always – don’t forget to go register your bikes at bikeindex.org!
– Bryan Hance, @StolenBikeReg