Joe Bike

Thief picks handcuffs, steals bike owned by Portland Police Bike Theft Task Force leader

Posted by on January 17th, 2020 at 8:06 am

Officer Sanders’ bike. Keep your eyes peeled!

Portland’s bike theft problem has reached a new high. Yesterday while at the Multnomah County Courthouse, Portland Police Bureau Officer David Sanders had his bike stolen. Sanders is not just a PPB officer, he’s the leader of the Bike Theft Task Force, a unit launched in 2015 with the aim to curb bike theft citywide.

“If they’re willing to steal a police bike in front of a courthouse, what have we come to?”
— PPB Officer David Sanders

And yes, as you can see in the image above, his bike had a big “POLICE” patch clearly visible on its frame bag.

Officer David Sanders at a 2019 Sunday Parkways event.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Officer Sanders told me this morning he was in a grand jury for about an hour-and-a-half and his bike was locked to a rack in front of the courthouse on SW 4th Avenue. The theft, which was caught on video, happened at about 6:00 pm. “[In the video] You can see him walk by and check out the bike. Then he gets to the end of the block and pauses, like ‘Hey, I think I’ll do it!’ Then he turns around and goes for it. It’s just bizarre.”

“These thieves have become so brazen,” Sanders said. “If they’re willing to steal a police bike in front of a courthouse, what have we come to? It’s such a problem if somebody’s willing to do that.”

Unfortunately, Sanders didn’t heed the advice of using a u-lock that he’s given hundreds of people over the years. The bike was locked to the rack with a pair of handcuffs. “It was my bad. He just picked the lock on the handcuffs and left them there.”

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As you can see by checking the PPB BTTF Twitter feed, Sanders often puts himself on the front lines of this fight and knows all too well how pervasive the problem is. “Going out on a limb here, but this may support the argument that we still have a slight bike theft problem in the city,” he tweeted yesterday.

Adding to the irony of the case is that Sanders had just left a Bike Theft Task Force meeting where he and his team were formulating 2020 plans to make big progress on the issue (stay tuned for more on that).

Despite no dedicated funding, Sanders (who works out of an office in Old Town) has dedicated himself to battling the scourge of bike theft. He and the five members of the bike theft unit train others officers about how to identify and recover stolen bikes, they work with local bike shops, give away u-locks, and share bike theft prevention and recovery tips at events like Sunday Parkways.

According to PPB statistics there are about 2,300 bike theft cases with an estimated stolen property value of about $2.5 million each year. Sanders says only about 1 in 4 stolen bikes get reported and he believes the total loss of property is closer to $10 million a year.

Sanders also estimates that police recover about 1 out of every 10 stolen bikes. But your chances of getting yours back double to about 1 in 5 if you have it registered with a service like Bike Index or Project 529.

Sanders’ bike is registered and listed as stolen; but, given that the thief likely realizes he’s in possession of police property, he doesn’t expect to ever see it again. “It’s probably at the bottom of the Willamette already,” Sanders said, “But who knows, maybe I’ll find it stashed in the bushes.”

The bike, which was part of a city fleet, was a 2017 Marin Nail Trail with serial number 091712249.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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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

58 Comments
  • Avatar
    9watts January 17, 2020 at 8:36 am

    #AmericanGraffiti

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    9watts January 17, 2020 at 8:41 am

    “If they’re willing to steal a police bike in front of a courthouse, what have we come to?”

    It seems pretty clear that the folks so inclined have nothing (or very little) to lose.
    Inequality can do that. We aren’t going to make much progress by wringing our hands or by continuing to overload our system with cases like this. Systemic change, a just system that treats people fairly from birth, is what we should be focusing on.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 17, 2020 at 8:55 am

      Yes inequality is a major factor. But I think we need to support both paths — systemic change AND more short-term, local efforts to stem the immediate problem. We can and should focus on both.

      Recommended Thumb up 19

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      mran1984 January 17, 2020 at 9:35 am

      Life is not fair! Let’s steal, litter and suck off everybody else. B.S. Get high on your own dime.

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        Toby Keith January 17, 2020 at 2:42 pm

        1000 thumbs up.

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      Chris I January 17, 2020 at 9:57 am

      I’d like to see us implement policies intended to solve inequality issues AND have regular one-way bus service from downtown Portland to Nampa, Idaho to function as an involuntary relocation service for all bike thieves.

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      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty January 20, 2020 at 10:01 am

        It’s been tried… that’s how we ended up with Australia.

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    m January 17, 2020 at 8:53 am

    “Systemic change, a just system that treats people fairly from birth, is what we should be focusing on.”

    Complete and utter utopian BS. Laws exist for a reason. A certain percentage of the population (REGARDLESS of how they are treated at birth) will violate those laws if they know there will be little to no ramifications. Stealing a cop bike on camera is an example of one of those people. As stated, “it’s probably at the bottom of the Willamette.” So tired of the coddling of criminals.

    https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/rankings/theft/

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      9watts January 17, 2020 at 9:03 am

      Except that those charts you linked to show orders of magnitude difference across countries. So the idea that there is no difference, that it is all about consequences, doesn’t really hold up.

      https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2018/06/07/the-stark-relationship-between-income-inequality-and-crime

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        m January 17, 2020 at 9:56 am

        I never said it was all about consequences but nice try in moving the goal posts.

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          9watts January 17, 2020 at 10:01 am

          You wrote: “will violate those laws if they know there will be little to no ramifications

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            m January 17, 2020 at 10:11 am

            So?

            Some of the most privileged/coddled people in the world turn out to be criminals. Need to focus on both issues or society falls apart. Feel free to have the last word. Gotta go.

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    • Avatar
      9watts January 17, 2020 at 9:11 am

      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
      Yes inequality is a major factor. But I think we need to support both paths — systemic change AND more short-term, local efforts to stem the immediate problem. We can and should focus on both.Recommended 0

      But we have ample evidence, don’t we, that focusing on law enforcement, punishment, processing bike thieves through our system, is expensive and, largely, ineffectual. They are soon back out on the street (I learned this here on BikePortland) because our system is overloaded; and the impunity with which some steal bikes suggests to me at least that *more of the same* isn’t going to deliver results.

      While inequality is much more difficult to solve and a longer term prospect, it would deliver thousands of co-benefits, and might actually work.

      Recommended Thumb up 15

      • Avatar
        dwk January 17, 2020 at 9:24 am

        Lets see, people who drive over and kill people should not be punished because of injustice and inequality… People who steal bikes and other property should not be punished because of injustice and inequality…
        Should rapists be punished or isn’t injustice and inequality just as big a factor?
        Should child abusers be punished or isn’t this just usually a case of poverty and inequality?
        It will probably take about 20 years or so if we start now to solve inequality, I guess rape victims, car driver victims and the like will just have to suck it up, be silent and wait for society to make proper progress.

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        • Avatar
          9watts January 17, 2020 at 10:08 am

          “Should not be punished”.
          Who is suggesting that?

          No, I am saying that is we take a hard look at how we are going about this we might discover that IT IS NOT WORKING.
          Time to try something different; accept that our methods (nab, process, lock em up) are not accomplishing our goals (feeling safe, no theft, happy society).

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          • Avatar
            dwk January 17, 2020 at 10:23 am

            Since Rapists and child abusers are 90% repeat offenders no matter what treatment, your solution is completely unsympathetic and will not protect the MOST vulnerable people in our society… It sounds good on an internet forum, though.

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              TOM MARTIN January 17, 2020 at 11:01 am

              Cite sources of your ‘90% repeat offenders no matter what treatment…” statement. Mass incarceration isn’t exactly much better than those numbers. and we have decades of proof. And it’s clear that MI disproportionately affects POC and Po’ Folx more than rich white men. I am still hopeful that Weinstein spends the rest of his life in club fed tho.

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      • Avatar
        Manville January 17, 2020 at 12:21 pm

        9watts

        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) Yes inequality is a major factor. But I think we need to support both paths — systemic change AND more short-term, local efforts to stem the immediate problem. We can and should focus on both.Recommended 0

        But we have ample evidence, don’t we, that focusing on law enforcement, punishment, processing bike thieves through our system, is expensive and, largely, ineffectual. They are soon back out on the street (I learned this here on BikePortland) because our system is overloaded; and the impunity with which some steal bikes suggests to me at least that *more of the same* isn’t going to deliver results.While inequality is much more difficult to solve and a longer term prospect, it would deliver thousands of co-benefits, and might actually work.Recommended 5

        In Saudi Arabia you lose a limb if you get caught stealing; there is no theft… Hey, if one can use the Netherlands for examples of a bike culture that works I can use Saudi Arabia for crime examples of crime policies that work.

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        • Avatar
          Jay Dedd January 17, 2020 at 12:50 pm

          Possibly you could, if you could cite a source for your claim that there is no theft in Saudi. Can you?

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    dan January 17, 2020 at 9:07 am

    Would love to see the video…

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    Jim Lee January 17, 2020 at 9:18 am

    At least it was not Bernie’s bike…

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    Tom martin January 17, 2020 at 9:22 am

    The courthouse is notorious for bike theft. The PPBs own heat maps shows that every year they have been keeping track.

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      Bald One January 17, 2020 at 8:18 pm

      Argghh, when I had jury duty a couple of months ago, I was kind of nervous about locking my bike to the staple rack right in front of the court house doors (U-lock, cable through both wheels), so I asked the numerous MultCo sheriffs who were standing around in the lobby, just feet away from my bike, about the odds of theft or parts strip during the day…. they were very careful to remove themselves from any responsibility having to do with any type of anti-theft activity in front of the courthouse and warned me thoroughly about the likelihood of theft from that location. Sorry about that PPB – I guess it’s the wrong jurisdiction.

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      Bald One January 17, 2020 at 8:21 pm

      Did Officer Sanders accidentally swap out his “bedroom” hand-cuffs for his “work” hand-cuffs?

      Did the thief just whip out a bobby pin from his top-knot and pick those hand-cuffs? Skillz.

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    JV January 17, 2020 at 9:31 am

    Once you remove the frame pack, that is a *highly* invisible/unremarkable lower-end MTB with zero obvious indication that it’s a PPB asset. I would have thought our PoPo bikes would be kitted out differently.
    In any case, looks like somebody has solid job security…..

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      Chris I January 17, 2020 at 9:58 am

      The bike is already parted out somewhere under a bridge in east Portland.

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    Jd January 17, 2020 at 10:17 am

    I want to know why he was using handcuffs and not a u-lock. Seems like if anyone should know better it’s him.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 17, 2020 at 10:33 am

      I didn’t ask him that. But I have a hunch the answer is…… he made a mistake in judgment. Something we all do from time to time.

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    J January 17, 2020 at 10:32 am

    All Cops Are Bicycles

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      TOM MARTIN January 17, 2020 at 10:41 am

      All Cyclists Are Beautiful

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      • Avatar
        J January 17, 2020 at 10:49 am

        Always Carry A Bikelock

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    X January 17, 2020 at 10:45 am

    So, was this a business proposition, $50 (street) worth of parts on a very hot frame, or was it a rare opportunity to get over on the man?

    I think it went straight down Salmon to the river.

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    Todd Boulanger January 17, 2020 at 11:37 am

    Actually, the use of the handcuffs as a dual use tool was a great idea…lighter weight than a u-lock when not in use (and running down bad guys) and then when in use locking a bike you do not have to carry them. And I give him credit for not riding around on a $3k uber mountain police bike that only screams “expensive”…which seems the more typical kit for police and parking enforcement bike officers.

    Though I think this brings up a more important question: why are the PPB handcuffs so easy to “pick”?

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      Matt January 18, 2020 at 9:14 am

      I heard somewhere that not only do ALL handcuffs use the same key, but the lock mechanism is very primitive. The keyhole is easily picked, and the ratchet is easily shimmed open.

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      Johnny Bye Carter January 18, 2020 at 11:49 am

      All handcuffs use the same key. Most criminals carry a handcuff key hidden on them somewhere. They’re also very easy to pick. They’re low security items for short term use. This makes it easy for different law enforcement agencies to interact without having to hand off keys to each other every time they exchange a prisoner.

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        Paul H January 21, 2020 at 4:10 pm

        “Most criminals carry a handcuff key hidden on them somewhere.”

        What? Do you actually know this? How? If not, why would you say this?

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    SilkySlim January 17, 2020 at 1:26 pm

    This was my first thought! Are real cuffs actually like those toy ones I had as a kid, removable in seconds with a paperclip?

    I hate to go all conspiracy theory, but I bet they are easy for culprits to remove…. Which then leads to another charge being levied on them (resisting arrest or similar). Then again, I guess it is ok for them to more symbolic than strong for the most part.

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      Johnny Bye Carter January 18, 2020 at 11:51 am

      Yes, it’s that easy. Google “handcuff key” and look at the images. They’re all the same key and they’re very basic.

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    Eric H January 17, 2020 at 2:11 pm

    If only he had used an ottolock…

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    Alice January 17, 2020 at 2:27 pm

    I’m generally very much against bike theft, but in this case, I can make an exception.

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    Sam January 17, 2020 at 2:41 pm

    You’re seriously telling me that Portland’s bike theft task force is 5 people with no dedicated funding?

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 17, 2020 at 3:31 pm

      Yes. Bummer huh? Officer Sanders has been working hard internally to get dedicated funding but to no avail thus far. The work continues and he is confident eventually he’ll break through. Also keep in mind that while only 5 are actively on the unit, they have done a lot of internal trainings to equip other officers with knowledge to be better at spotting stolen bikes and getting them back to their owners.

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    Toby Keith January 17, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    The bike is out there…though probably spread out in many pieces amongst Portland’s fine criddler parks.

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    Rain Waters January 17, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    Using handcuffs in apocalypse mode like a cut out from Mad Max.

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    Manville January 17, 2020 at 4:48 pm

    Jay Dedd
    Possibly you could, if you could cite a source for your claim that there is no theft in Saudi. Can you?Recommended 5

    Aside from living there and watching store owners leave their store open to go and pray…. you can google a wiki page just like me.

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      Jay Dedd January 17, 2020 at 7:49 pm

      I hear you, Manville: No such page exists, or else you’d be able to link to it.

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        Stephen Keller January 19, 2020 at 3:13 pm

        No idea whether this has any objective validity, but a Wikepedia page does exist:

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Saudi_Arabia

        Stph

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          Jay Dedd January 19, 2020 at 11:25 pm

          Thanks! On that page, I read this: “The most common crime in 2002 was theft, which accounted for 47% of total reported crime,” with a citation: Karl R. DeRouen; Paul Bellamy (2007). International Security and the United States: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 674. ISBN 0-275-99253-5.

          So as a far as a wiki page claiming that there is no theft in Saudi, perhaps the search should continue.

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          • Hello, Kitty
            Hello, Kitty January 20, 2020 at 10:16 am

            If there were two crimes reported, and one of them was a theft, you’d pretty much arrive at that statistic. It says nothing about whether theft is common or rare.

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              Jay Dedd January 20, 2020 at 12:00 pm

              Correct, and no need to. Manville’s original claim (Look upthread) was not about common or rare. It was, “In Saudi Arabia … there is _no_ theft.” (Emphasis mine.)

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              • Hello, Kitty
                Hello, Kitty January 20, 2020 at 1:16 pm

                Yes. Taken as a literal assertion of fact, the statement you were responding to was incorrect. But also don’t think anyone reading it would believe the author intended to say that there are zero thefts in SA, but rather that the rate of theft is low. I don’t know whether that statement is true either, but I do believe that it has been repeatedly demonstrated that a draconian system of oppression and punishment is effective at lowering the apparent crime rate.

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                Jay Dedd January 20, 2020 at 5:23 pm

                “No theft” means no theft. Anything beyond that is just you last-wording away to your heart’s content as you always do. Feel free; bye.

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    Johnny Bye Carter January 18, 2020 at 12:04 pm

    I contemplated biking to the courthouse last week. This confirms my suspicions. I generally won’t bike anywhere downtown until it’s a bike shop. I don’t trust that my bike will not be stolen if it remains out of my sight for more than a few minutes.

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    Mike Quigley January 18, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    Is it that easy to pick handcuffs? Must be.

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    • Hello, Kitty
      Hello, Kitty January 20, 2020 at 10:18 am

      They fundamentally work like a zip-tie, so you can slip something into the ratchet mechanism to release it. You can trivially make a perfectly workable shim with a aluminum can and a pair of scissors.

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    Ted Buehler January 20, 2020 at 12:51 pm

    Hopefully this will enable Officer Sanders to convince his supervisors that the city’s bicycle theft issue is significant enough to warrant more funding and staff for his group!

    Ted Buehler

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    joel January 21, 2020 at 8:00 am

    he also has quick release tires, seatpost, etc.

    wish all bikes had gps on them, though it would open us up to tracking/hacking/ etc, but wouldnt it be cool if bike theft stopped. just got my car stollen, but you cant hide a car under a blanket, or keep a hundred in a garage.

    bummer for the officer, hope the bike rides hard in its next life and is appreciated, or that it will come back. hope it doesnt end up in the river.
    -j

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    Friedman February 14, 2020 at 10:04 am

    I know the odds are small of getting a stolen bike back, but it does happen. I registered my bike’s serial number years ago and when the thief abandoned it, the police were able to use the info to contact me so I could get it back. I’ve had the bike since 1996 and still use it every day to get to work. Thanks for raising awareness with this article.

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