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About that KGW-TV segment on Portland’s Bike Theft Task Force


Screen grab from interview with KGW host Dan Haggerty.

A segment that aired Tuesday night on KGW, Portland’s NBC affiliate station, got a few things wrong about bike theft in Portland. (Note: See update at end of story posted on 4/16.)

The Story with Dan Haggerty spent about six minutes on the topic, framed around the assertion that the Portland Police Bureau’s Bike Theft Task Force (BTTF) has been “eliminated” due to recent police budget cutbacks.

Unfortunately, the central idea and framing of the segment is untrue. The BTTF is alive and was never shut down. Worse yet, host Dan Haggerty perpetuates harmful and unfair stereotypes about people who live on the street.

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The show (you can watch it above) was prompted by a viewer who asked KGW about what they assumed to be a bicycle “chop shop” in downtown Portland. When Haggerty introduced the viewer’s question, he supported their assumption, dismissed an unhoused person’s claim that the bikes weren’t stolen, and even said jokingly, “I think that’s my tire right there.”

I have been pushing back against the “chop shop” narrative for years. The fact is, not every bike you see in a homeless camp is stolen. And people who live on the street can have multiple bikes. They can repair bikes for other people. They can even collect bikes, sell them, or even work on them as a hobby. Yes, these Portlanders who live in tents can have the same interests as you and me! They deserve respect and are innocent until proven guilty. Making assumptions about criminal behavior — especially when it perpetuates harmful stereotypes — is totally unacceptable.

I’ve worked on the bike theft issue for a long time. I know that many stolen bikes have been recovered from encampments (including one of mine!), but that does not make it OK to blithely accuse people of theft.

The other major point the show got wrong is that the BTTF has been “eliminated” due to funding cuts. That is untrue.

The BTTF was never a funded unit with a line-item in the PPB budget. It was a unit with a few officers who had permission from bureau leadership to work on bike theft. All the cool things they did like lock giveaways and promotional events at Sunday Parkways and elsewhere were done with grants and/or donations. The only city budget impact came from officers’ time spent doing the work.

We explained all this back in January. The BTTF was put on pause as part of the PPB’s attempt to re-assign officers and respond to budget cuts bureau-wide. But it was never “eliminated”. The PPB lieutenant cited in the KGW story who said, “We do not have a Bike Theft Task Force,” is simply unaware of what’s going on.

The BTTF website is still alive and officers respond to bike theft calls just like they would any other crime. There were several months over the winter when the BTTF went silent and no longer updated or responded on their social media channels, but that’s no longer the case.

Since March 30th, the BTTF has returned to action. Officers have posted numerous updates on Instagram about their work in the field.

When one BTTF Instagram follower expressed confusion that the account was still active, someone from the PPB replied, “We lost funding for community events and bicycle outreach. However, we still investigate bicycle theft and assist officers in determining if a bicycle is stolen. We just unfortunately can’t do as much as we used to! We also still have 5 officers in downtown Portland that patrol and respond to calls on bicycles, which is awesome!”

The officers who founded the BTTF trained dozens of PPB officers in the fine art of sniffing out stolen bikes, recovering them, and getting unstolen ones registered. That means even as those officers have moved on and/or have been re-assigned, there remains a strong foundation of bike theft prevention and recovery knowledge at the PPB.

As someone who helped create the BTTF and has done a lot of work around bike theft in general, it’s important to me that the issue is covered accurately. I was also interviewed by Dan Haggerty in the KGW story so I wanted to clear up any confusion my appearance might have caused.

If you have questions about the BTTF, I’m happy to answer them in the comments.

UPDATE, 4/15:
I’ve received new clarification from the PPB about the status of the BTTF. According to PPB Public Information Officer Sgt. Kevin Allen, the Lieutenant cited in KGW’s story is correct: “Officially, the BTTF is no longer operating,” Sgt. Allen says:

“I read your article and your understanding of its genesis and funding sources is spot on… Officers assigned to bike patrol (and regular patrol) are still working on bike theft cases when time allows. We know bike theft is a major problem in Portland and we are addressing it as much as our resources allow. PPB bike officers have been posting periodically on social media sharing tips on preventing bike theft and successful bike recoveries. We encourage our community to report bike thefts as quickly as possible, and try to have photos and serial numbers available to increase the chances of recovery. The officers that are posting on the BTTF social media pages will change the name to avoid confusion. I hope this helps, and thanks for your advocacy of this important issue.”

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