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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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mark smithToby KeithHello, Kitty9wattsMiddle of the Road Guy Recent comment authors
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Kittens
Subscriber
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.

Shimran George
Guest
Shimran George

I think using the broad term of homeless and associating them with bike theft causes issues and is a bit counterproductive to combating bike theft.

Trust me, I’m not blind to the encampments with a seemingly endless supply of bike parts/frames and other potentially stolen material and want them gone myself…but freely throwing around “homeless” is somewhat vague and puts a bit of a burden on one group of people who are not monolithic, either in viewpoints or behavior.

Billyjo
Guest
Billyjo

All petty crime is way up. Oregon has suspended redemption of bottles and cans so that Income has been lost for the homeless population. Also with people staying home, standing on a freeway off ramp and getting handed cash is way down.

It’s not like they’re getting unemployment checks so they gotta do what they gotta do to survive. Anybody that denies them their income is being heartless.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

To try and help folks out, I’m using a cable lock until this crisis is over.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

JFK would approve! Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for bike thieves.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Not true, billyjo. The BottleDrop redemption centers remain open, though the lines are long and people are waiting hours to redeem their $35 worth of bottles and cans.

One of the dumbest things the state did when the pandemic struck was shut down all of the store-based redemption machines, meaning everyone has to go to a BottleDrop location. The state could have required retailers to impose social-distancing requirements for bottle redemption, as they’re doing for other retail ops. But no – just close ’em down cuz we don’t want to deal with them.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

The state should immediately suspend bottle deposits. We have people grabbing cans and bottles that were just used by other people, and then standing in lines to redeem them, for a few bucks. This is not how we flatten the curve.

GlowBoy
Guest
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.

Dave Sanders
Guest

GlowBoy,
Yes, we would agree, and that has been part of the challenge to notify the community about bike registration and HOW to do it. We have tried to simplify the message – http://www.project529.com/portland . A simple click with your smartphone will accomplish that in 3 minutes. If you have any suggestions, let us know. Always trying to improve!

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Thanks for your work, Dave!

Do you know whether 529 and BikeIndex share serial number info? In other words, do you (and maybe us civvies) have one-stop serial number checking? At least for stolen frames?

Do you suggest that we use both services, or is either/or good enough?

Like kate’s question below, any suggestions what to do when we see suspicious encampments or other sketchy bike part stuff?

Dave Sanders
Guest

Serial numbers for ‘stolen’ bikes are cross-searched on both BikeIndex and Project529. Project529 cross searches all mainstream registries by make/model also, so a little more comprehensive. Therefore if you use Project 529 to search suspicious bikes, this would be sufficient.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Good info! Also, I see a button for “Submit a Tip” on that BTTF page that’s linked to your name. It requires registration (email) but I guess that’s a good way to report stuff related to bike theft.

Let’s Active
Guest
Let’s Active

Dave, thanks for doing great outreach in the community. I think it was you who set me up on the app at a Timbers game during the olden days. Much-appreciated!

todd.boulanger
Guest
todd.boulanger

Yes all bikes should be registered, but sadly many police departments got out of that crime prevention task over the last generation. AND sadly #2…a registered bike only protects the frame …at the point of its high/ higher value parts being removed. (Shame on the bike parts companies, bike manufacturers AND the CPSC (US) for not requiring such for major components.)

todd.boulanger
Guest
todd.boulanger

Jonathan, I loved your little topical tongue and cheek photo caption: “With herd registration, we could build an immunity to bike theft.” Though NOT buying bike parts from Craigslist (etc.) would be better herd immunity…or only buying from vetted sources.

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 🙂

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Mine too! 😀 And this was just the bump I needed to recover my BikeIndex password (easy), login, and give B.H. and friends a token ($) of my appreciation. As long as I’m in, here’s my newest beast of burden in its then-new glory: https://bikeindex.org/bikes/37651

Donno what to do about chop camps. From what I read here, PPD isn’t interested in general reports like that. I wonder if Sanders might have some informal tipline?* Twitter or SMS or ??

*no, autocorrect, NOT tippling

Dave Sanders
Guest

We get this question a lot, short answer is we love any tips to our BTTF@portlandoregon.gov account. Or even better, send us a picture on twitter ( @ppbbiketheft ) and we can followup with those locations.

maxD
Guest
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.

Dave Sanders
Guest

Thanks for all you do Bryan! Another champion for the community, for those that don’t know. Most don’t even realize how much you do every day behind the scenes to help track down stolen bikes!! Keep up the great work! =)

Alan Love
Guest
Alan Love

BikeIndex helped me get a stolen bike back a few years ago. It’s a non-profit volunteer gig, so consider a donation, especially if it helps you get your bike back.

Tom
Guest
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.

Bryan Hance (The Bike Index)
Subscriber

… take a scroll through Offerup and Letgo. That’s where a lot of them wind up.

Tom
Guest
Tom

That’s what I’m thinking…that there is just not enough market for this many used bike parts or frankenbikes, so most of it ends up in a dumpster. I’m wondering if the bike parts are also being used as a form of currency and just being traded back and forth, driven by a demand for alternate street currency. If so, then recycle centers could bin the discarded parts out and re-inject more ‘cash’ into the street economy.

Toby Keith
Guest
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.

9watts
Subscriber

This stance is familiar here, playing the innocent victim, but after all these years of hand wringing I don’t understand why we can’t take a little smidgen of responsibility.

If I am not mistaken most bike thefts here in town, though often brazen and deplorable, and uncalled for and traumatizing for the (former) owners, are visited upon bikes that are either not locked or not locked with any sort of understanding of how this is to be done. If that is true then I reject the victim role, because we know or should know by now that we live in a profoundly unequal society that generates this sort of crime.
Since we individual bike owners can’t solve inequality, and have by now realized that law enforcement priorities—-this BTTF notwithstanding—-are not with us, what we CAN do something about is to lock our bikes to immovable objects with quality u-locks.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Your victim blaming is pretty rich given how vociferously you object to it in other contexts, especially since, unlike those other contexts, the perpetrator is acting both with deliberation and in a stark violation of universally accepted notions of right and wrong.

By blaming society for these crimes, you discredit the majority of those who, in the face of great adversity, do not seek to victimize others.

9watts
Subscriber

You can call it victim blaming. I call it pragmatism.

I’ve had plenty of bikes, trailers, and other related things stolen, and it feels crummy, like a violation. But I had to concede after the fact that in all cases a better job of locking them up would have discouraged and most likely prevented the theft.
Wishing/hoping/expecting unlocked bikes not to get stolen—-which is I think the logical extension of what you are suggesting—-doesn’t seem like a very adaptive or pragmatic approach to take.

Universally accepted norms are easy to assert, until you acknowledge the degree of unequal distribution of material goods, of opportunity, of fairness we have in this country, and at that point I think your imagined universality goes out the window. You can still insist on it but it isn’t worth much more than whistling in the wind.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> I had to concede after the fact that in all cases a better job of locking them up would have discouraged and most likely prevented the theft. <<<

Certainly. It's your fault you didn't lock your bikes better. The thief probably lost control when he saw them. Not his fault, when you really think about it. Anyone might have done it.

It's not just my imagination that all societies across all time have condemned theft. Aside from murder it is about the most universal norm we have. You make a lot of excuses for bike thieves, but none are even remotely convincing. Do you really think that societal inequality justifies random theft? That claim doesn't withstand even a modicum of scrutiny.

I lock my bike; I wear visible clothes when I'm out at night; I do other things that reduce my chances of being purposefully victimized or hurt unintentionally. I believe most people are good. I believe bike thieves are not.

9watts
Subscriber

“You make a lot of excuses for bike thieves”
I think you misunderstand me. I am making no excuses for bike thieves. Explaining why sociopathic behaviors arise is not the same thing as making excuses, though you would collapse that distinction.
No, I am tired of the excuses folks here make for people who can’t be bothered to take basic responsibility for discouraging the theft of their bikes by using common sense. Wringing your hands over the failure of social norms may be satisfying but it isn’t constructive, useful, wont reduce bike theft. If we are interested in reducing it we should follow the advice given here: https://police.vanderbilt.edu/pdfs/biketheft.pdf

Bicycle Theft Awareness and Prevention
• A consistent finding is that most stolen bicycles, regardless of theft location, are either not locked at all or are secured using a lock that requires little force to break or remove.
• While it has been proposed that all locks can be overcome if the opportunity is present and the offender is suitably equipped, it is clear that inadequate locking practices will create a situation conducive for the offender, and that observing more-secure locking practices should, at the very least, reduce opportunistic crime.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

What’s true about bike theft in Nashville may be less true here.

Recall the video of the bike room theft where people entered a locked room, and used an assortment of power tools to systematically dismantle apparently secure racks and cut U-locks in order to steal a selection of high value bicycles.

That was not opportunistic theft of unlocked or underlocked bikes. The thieves went about their work in a professional and well-practiced manner.

To make Vanderbilt’s advice relevant to Portland, we at least need to add an instruction not to leave your bike U-locked to a rack that is firmly attached to the wall inside a locked room, or really anywhere else that portable power tools may be brought to bear on a locking mechanism or rack.

So please, Portlanders, use your bike in place of your car, but don’t be foolish and leave it anywhere because if your lock gets cut it probably wasn’t good enough and you should have known better.

9watts
Subscriber

“I believe most people are good. I believe bike thieves are not.”

Feel good cant. How is talk of good and evil helpful?
Do you take the same approach to teen pregnancy?

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

Do you take the same approach to sexual assault?

Should women just be more pragmatic? Or can we agree that the fault lies entirely with the perpetrator?

9watts
Subscriber

“Should women just be more pragmatic? Or can we agree that the fault lies entirely with the perpetrator?”

Why is this an either/or thing?
I have not been talking about fault, or excusing thieves. Pragmatic behavior on the part of the bike owner or person who seeks to not be harmed in other ways does not alter the culpability of the perpetrator, it does however in the case of bike theft alter the probability of the bike vanishing.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> Do you take the same approach to teen pregnancy? <<<

Absolutely. I also detest the theft of pregnant teens.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Where is the line?

When can a person stop stealing from those with more? 100k income?

9watts
Subscriber

We are regularly and consistently exhorted to
Lock our houses,
Take valuables out of our cars,
Use a The Club on our steering wheels,
Not leave laptops on tables in coffee shops,

and no one I know objects, expects the world to conform to casual sloppiness in those cases. So why are we who bike special? Why should our reluctance to lock our bikes properly be coddled?!

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

If someone burgles your house, smashes your window to steal the quarter you left in your cup holder, steals your unclubbed car, or makes off with your laptop while you’re ordering coffee, you may not object, but I will. I do not consider “not stealing” to be “conforming to your sloppiness”. I do not consider not being victimized as being “coddled”.

9watts
Subscriber

I do not consider not being victimized as being “coddled”.

I wasn’t referring to victimization but the *expectation* that we should be able to leave our stuff lying about and not have it pinched.
Where does this work? Who, seriously, asserts this as a strategy?
You can wish for such a society all you want but wishing is not policy.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> Who, seriously, asserts this as a strategy? <<<

I don't think anyone asserts this is a strategy. It feels a bit like a straw man.

9watts
Subscriber

I guess I missed what your strategy is then. How you propose we get a handle on this?

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Of course you should lock your bike well, just as you should make yourself visible at night. And of course appropriate agencies should broadcast that advice through multiple channels.

As for habitual thieves, I would like to see rehabilitation (whatever that looks like), and, failing that, jail, with further opportunities for rehabilitation. What alternative is there?

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

This has nothing to do with inequality. It has everything to do with a segment of our society that refuses to take personal responsibility and would rather take a self destructive path victimizing other citizens along the way. And it seems folks like yourself are happy to support them in their endeavor. No thanks.

9watts
Subscriber

“are happy to support them…”

?

J_R
Guest
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!

Dave Sanders
Guest

Thanks for sharing! This is how universal bike registration is designed to work, and we see it every day. Keep up the good work!

Fred
Guest
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).

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Fred – so you are saying that this PPB PR message was a “hall pass” of sorts and declaring Portland as an “Open City for minor crimes”?

Toby Keith
Guest
Toby Keith

Look no further than Ted Wheeler. But remember he lives in a well guarded $1.5 million dollar home way up in Goose Hollow.

mark smith
Guest
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.