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Bike Theft Task Force leader has left PPB; future of unit unclear

Posted by on January 13th, 2021 at 1:08 pm

A busy Bike Theft Task Force booth at a 2019 Sunday Parkways event.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

“Due to a lack of funds/budget, our unit has been suspended and is currently unable to respond to bike theft needs in the community.”
— Dave Sanders, Task Force founder and former PPB officer

A vital part of Portland’s fight against the scourge of bicycle theft has been mothballed.

Six years ago, as bike theft spun out of control in Portland, we brought people together to do something about it. With full support from the Chief of Police, we helped establish the Portland Police Bike Theft Task Force — a specialty unit devoted to tackling the problem. “This cannot continue,” said former PPB Chief Larry O’Dea at a press conference outside City Hall on March 31st, 2015. “Portland is a cycling city. Thousands of people depend on their bicycles every single day to get them to work, the store, school, and so on. Today is the day we as a community get organized to address this problem head-on.”

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Fast forward to January 2021 and emails to the Bike Theft Task Force are met with a somber message: “Due to a lack of funds/budget, our unit has been suspended and is currently unable to respond to bike theft needs in the community. We do not foresee this changing any time in the near future based on the current trajectory of city priorities, though we recognize the urgent need to address this epidemic.”

Officer Dave Sanders in 2019.

The email is signed by PPB Officer Dave Sanders, who is now former PPB Officer Dave Sanders. Sanders decided to leave the bureau at the end of December to work for the Beaverton Police Department.

You might recall Sanders as the officer who reached out to me in October 2014 to raise the alarm about bike theft and express frustration that the PPB wasn’t taking it more seriously. It was my relationship with Sanders that led me to Chief O’Dea’s office and ultimately to the formation of the Task Force. Sanders, who patrolled the central city by bike with his partner and fellow Bike Theft Task Force (BTTF) Officer David Bryant, was extremely dedicated to fighting bike theft. Under his leadership (and without little to no funding), the BTTF registered thousands of bikes. The unit also gave away hundreds of free u-locks, educated the community about prevention techniques, helped returned stolen bikes to theft victims, investigated thefts, tracked down bike theft suspects, trained other PPB officers in the art and science of bike theft prevention and recovery, and collaborated with other agencies (most often the transportation bureau).

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PPB Officers David Bryant (L), Chief O’Dea (middle) and Sanders (right) receive a donation in 2016.

Despite no dedicated budget (other than staff time), Sanders built a strong foundation for the BTTF using relationships, a few grants, donations, and hard work.

Sanders’ auto-reply email offers a window into his frustrations about the challenges he faced in the past year as his morale ebbed, bike theft remained a massive problem and the police budget came under intense scrutiny:

“Bike theft has climbed to an all-time historic high this year. This is directly related to the reduction in our police force as well as a lack of accountability in the criminal justice system for these offenses. Sadly, we anticipate the problem getting worse, barring any systemic change to the current approach to public safety. We hope that bike theft will be prioritized by the community once again at some point in the future. We are confident that controlling bike theft is an attainable goal, but it will require a concerted investment.”

Right now in Portland a credit card fraudster is hitting local bike shops and remains on the loose. The PPB is aware of the issue and is working with the community to stop it, but this is the type of situation where the expertise of Sanders would be invaluable.

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The BTTF will suffer from a lack of leadership and effectiveness without Sanders at the helm, but not all is not lost.

Reached for comment about the status of the BTTF, PPB Public Information Officer Melissa Newhard said officers continue to recover stolen bikes under the BTTF umbrella but, “Outreach and registration activities have been suspended due to personnel and budget shortfalls.” “The staffing and budget reductions have resulted in a reduction of BTTF’s ability to maintain a presence on various electronic media The website, e-mail, and various social media channels will remain up, but their activity will be minimal. We hope to resume these activities as our staffing numbers increase and our budget outlook improves.”

The official website remains as a resource and the PPB still works bike theft cases. There’s also hope that some bike theft prevention and recovery efforts can be transitioned away from armed, sworn officers as part of Portland’s new approach to policing. The Portland Street Response, an effort championed by Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty as a new policing model, has begun training and plans to roll out in February. It’s also notable that Hardesty also leads the Portland Bureau of Transportation, an agency that has long been a supporter of the BTTF and could take over some of the work (like registration drives, education, training and so on).

In the meantime, if you get your bike stolen, the best thing to do is report it immediately on BikeIndex.org and Project529.com. You should also file a police report online. The next step is to check local listings on OfferUp, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace to see if someone is trying to sell it. This and more info is still available on the FAQ page on the BTTF website.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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Steve ScarichAbrahamJBoneJoHello, Kitty Recent comment authors
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rick
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rick

Dave, welcome to Beaverton.

dan
Guest
dan

Well, that’s disappointing. Thanks to Officer Sanders for his hard work trying to turn things around.

mran1984
Guest

Let the criddlers rejoice. I will never lock a bike up in this city of crime and garbage. Looking for a stolen bike? Just check out ***deleted by moderator***. The social workers will get right on this. The new DA would not consider bike theft crime anyway.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Ironic. Lack of funds when millionaires are becoming billionaires, and billionaires are well on their was to becoming trillionaires. Tax the rich for a change?

Jimmy
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Jimmy

Re-fund the police.

Christian Samuel
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Christian Samuel

Office Sanders is a great guy. He is a prime example of what community policing can due to proactively reduce crime and make our community a place to thrive. He put his all into trying to reduce, even eliminate bike theft in Portland, It’s really sad we as a community have decided not to support his efforts. Thank you for your service Officer Sanders!

Javier Sodo
Guest
Javier Sodo

What a shame! But hey that’s what we get for electing police haters. Portland is now reaping what it has sowed.

Nadia Maxim
Guest
Nadia Maxim

I’m really sorry to hear this. I seriously doubt JoAnn Hardesty will be of any help in the area of bike theft. She is the major player in why the Bike Theft Task Force was disbanded in the first place. She even wanted an additional $18 million cut to the police budget to fund unproven and unrelated social giveaways (food donations, hygiene activities, eviction defenses, etc)
She hates enforcement. Unfortunately, thieves now know there are no repercussions for stealing in Portland. Hang onto your bikes!

Some cops are the Proud Boys
Guest

It was probably their goal all along is to stop all bike theft so they can put themselves out of business.

Don’t have money left over when you pay your entire staff 80 hours of overtime each week to stop those libtard protestors demanding equality and stuff

Kawoyi Nagata
Guest
Kawoyi Nagata

That’s a bummer. Many of the good cops we have are bailing out of Portland. It’s no wonder though given the lack of support they receive from local politicians and many members of our community. Many are so disillusioned they are taking jobs with lower salaries at other departments. Not good for the community to lose excellent, experienced officers. There is a new non profit in Portland that is attempting to build positive relationships between the community and the PPB. I hope they are successful.
Here is their link:
https://www.facetofacepdx.org/

Pancy Fants
Guest
Pancy Fants

Effective community police outreach, unfortunate to see it go. Indeed, not all cops are bastards.

Pat J
Guest

It seems like this is what happens when people choose to defund police and their programs. Antifa and the far left have done their damage. Also learned that chrashes may no longer be investigated when the traffic division goes away. Hit and runs will no longer be solved. I read a letter from Oregon Impact on this. I suppose unintended consequences ro poorly thought out knee jerk reactions.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I was listening to a podcast the other day in which a guy was explaining what “Defund the police” means. “C’mon, you guys!” he said. “You know that we don’t mean get RID of the police – we mean get rid of the racist police organizations as we now know them.”

Okay, I get that, but I’m pretty sure that 95% of Americans – probably 95% of Portlanders – do not. And Portland’s dysfunctional gov’t made the mistake of cutting the police budget without having any public-safety backfills already in place. That’s how a competent city gov’t would handle it, so of course Portland decided to do the exact opposite. Where are those non-police public-safety improvements we were promised? We are waiting.

Bike Guy
Guest
Bike Guy

Thank you Officer Dave for your contributions, and sorry to see you go.

Jonathan, I disagree that bike theft is suitable for the unarmed members of the Street Response Unit to handle. Bike theft is a crime, and should be treated as such – by both PPB and DA Schmidt.

On the other hand, activities within the original purview of the SRT: mental health disorders, homelessness / houselessness, individual drug use – are not criminal offenses, so merit an initial response by the SR Team.

Jo
Guest
Jo

I tried calling the cops to help get when I my found stolen bikes and it was a joke. Crime is out of control and being a softie isn’t the solution.

Like everything else, things will get worse until it starts hitting some people in the pocket book. Then, and only then, will we get some change.

Until then you must never leave your bike unattended for even a minute regardless of what lock you have. Your bikes are no longer safe in a garage – they must be inside the house.

Abraham
Guest
Abraham

Dave Sanders,

What happened to your 300k grant you told me about this spring?