“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.”
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.”
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).
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.
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 email@example.com
— Get our headlines delivered to your inbox.
— Support this independent community media outlet with a one-time contribution or monthly subscription.