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5 years after launch, PPB Bike Theft Task Force leader says problem remains ‘very bad’

Posted by on April 9th, 2020 at 12:34 pm

Last month members of the Task Force joined with Milwaukie PD for a free bike registration event on the Springwater Corridor.
(Photos: Portland Police)

Bike thieves do not care about the pandemic. In fact, it’s probably encouraging them to steal more.

According to the Portland Police Bureau Bike Theft Task Force, bike theft in March was up 25% compared to last year. Task Force leader Officer Dave Sanders says it’s “very bad” out there right now.

The BTTF was launched five years ago this week. We haven’t reduced bike theft as much as we’d hoped, but the task force itself remains strong and is doing excellent work. While Portland is a leader in bike theft with about 10,000 bikes stolen each year (over one per hour), we are also a leader in recoveries. According to PPB data, they’ve recovered 30% more bikes so far this year than last. That’s $100,000 worth of stolen bikes back in the hands of their owners. The key? Registration.

“We could solve bike theft overnight if everyone would take a few minutes today to walk out to their garage and register their bikes,” Ofcr. Sanders shared with me this week.

Sanders is on the frontlines of the bike theft epidemic. As he scours the city looking for stolen bikes, he’s also been a victim himself. It happened back in January and it just happened again last week.

“We could solve bike theft overnight if everyone would take a few minutes today to walk out to their garage and register their bikes.”
— Dave Sanders, PPB officer

Ofcr. Dave Sanders and Milwaukie PD Ofcr. Mark Inman on the Springwater Corridor last month.

Ofcr. Sanders says on March 27th he recovered a stolen bike in the Central Eastside. He placed the bike on the rack of his marked patrol car. Then on his way back to his office in Old Town he stopped under the Burnside Bridge to deal with another issue. When he came back to his car, the bike was gone. “They took it while I had my back turned!!” Sanders shared.

On Monday, someone waltzed into the headquarters of Chris King Precision Components in northwest Portland and stole a one-of-a-kind custom bike.

People who steal bikes in Portland are infamous for their brazen action. And virus-related protocols might be fueling the fire. On March 26th the Multnomah County District Attorney announced a policy to reduce arrests in order to prevent COVID-19 spread inside jail. They’ve advised law enforcement officers to hand out citations instead of arrests, “for all non-person, non-domestic violence cases when the law enforcement officer has a positive identification of the individual.”

Sanders thinks word of this policy has spread among thieves, many of whom feel like it would be just a minor inconvenience if they got caught.

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The Task Force has registered hundreds of bikes at Sunday Parkways and other events.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

Beyond the new policy, there aren’t as many eyes-on-the-street as usual because so many people are staying indoors. Sanders thinks a lot of people who used to ride to work everyday and have left their bikes in outdoor sheds, storage rooms, or basements, might have an unpleasant surprise when they start biking again. “I fear once everyone gets the OK to resume activity, we’ll see a rash of theft reports come in because cyclists are going to go to the basement to get their bike and realize it was stolen,” Sanders says.

The majority of recent thefts are burglaries. Sanders strongly advises everyone to lock their bikes while in storage with a heavy-duty u-lock (no cable locks!). It’s also a perfect time to register your bike.

Sanders is optimistic that we can control bike theft in Portland. “The plan is simple: bike registration,” he says.

Here’s more from Sanders:

“Really that’s it. All of the other pieces will fall into place once we get a handle on bike registration. Bike thieves get away with it because they know the owner hasn’t recorded what they have. It’s low risk, high reward. Universal bike registration turns that equation on its head. It’s quick, easy, free, and it works. Statistically in Portland, registration doubles your chances of getting your bike back. We estimate there’s a 1 in 5 chance of recovery if your bike is registered. Wouldn’t you buy a raffle ticket with those odds?”

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With herd registration, we could build an immunity to bike theft.

Registration isn’t managed by the PPB, but they use a publicly available tool called Project 529 every day to connect stolen bikes to individual thieves and to re-unite bikes with their owners. Another free registration tool, Bike Index, is run by a nonprofit.

Sanders is working toward a goal of a ten-fold increase in registrations in Portland by 2022. Currently there are about 10,000 bikes registered locally and he wants to see that number swell to 100,000 in two years. In early March Sanders and his partners teamed up with Milwaukie Police Department officers for a free bike registration drive on the Springwater Corridor.

In addition to registering bikes, the Bike Theft Task Force is staying busy with: Daily follow-ups on bike theft cases, running a bait bike program, training law enforcement officers region-wide on how to spot stolen bikes, setting up stings to intercept online purchases, and so on.

“But we can’t simply arrest our way out of this problem,” Sanders says. “We need the community’s help. Is your bike registered? Maybe this would be a good use of the next five minutes. Don’t put it off or it may be too late.”

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

I think it is great Portland Police have the task force, good on them. God’s work! But without meaningful enforcement, all their efforts are wasted.

Portland has one set of rules for us and one set of rules for the homeless population who commit a wildly disproportionate amount of petty crime and destruction. I do not think the “soft on crime” approach does them or us any favors.

GlowBoy
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GlowBoy

I’m sure it would be good if everyone registered their bike. It also would be good if people knew how to register their bikes. I suspect most bike owners don’t.

kate
Guest
kate

biked by a camp last night, full of bikes…what should i do in that situation? i’m not going to confront anyone by myself. also, all of my bikes are registered on bike index 🙂

maxD
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maxD

bunch of bikes were being disassembled last night on the sidewalk of SE 3rd between Ash and Ankeny.

Bryan Hance (The Bike Index)
Subscriber

For those of you on Twitter, don’t forget you can follow @stolenbikespdx and @stolenbikereg to get realtime listings & tweets of all the stolen bikes in PDX. Which, these days, is quite a lot.

Tom
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Tom

Do they have an idea what happens to all the bike parts? Do they all go on Craigslist? Or how are they marketing the thousands of bike parts from dissembled bikes. Seems like something could be done to shutdown the marketplace.

Toby Keith
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Toby Keith

I can’t believe anyone would be shocked at this. Especially now. Most of us are supposed to “cower in place” while our property (like bikes) have become low hanging fruit fresh for the vulnerable citizens to pluck.

J_R
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J_R

Plenty of congregations of people in tents along transportation corridors have piles of bikes and bike components as well as shopping carts. I know those are stolen since they are emblazoned with names like Safeway, Fred Meyer, Target, etc. I guess they failed to lock them up – their fault.

Josh Berezin
Subscriber
Josh Berezin

Just to share a bike registration success story — I saw a suspicious bike locked outside Central Library, but I noticed it had a 529 sticker. I was able to look it up on my phone and verify that it was stolen, then message the owner through the app, and he came down within 15 minutes. It had been stolen out of a locked car.

If it hadn’t been registered? I’d never have even been able to confirm my suspicion.

Register your bikes!

Fred
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Fred

The worst thing PPB did was send out new releases at the beginning of the pandemic saying “We’re pursuing only major crimes now.” It sent a strong message that it’s open season for bike theft and other so-called “petty crimes.” Whoever masterminded those messages should be crucified (or held to account in some modern, appropriate way).

mark smith
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mark smith

I could lock mine with a new york lock…and someone (of course just referring to someone not marginalized) would take everything else off. Just got to ride junk around and hope for the best. Keep the nice stuff at home.