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

Posted by on April 14th, 2021 at 12:01 pm

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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Fuzzy Blue Line
Guest
Fuzzy Blue Line

“They deserve respect and are innocent until proven guilty. Making assumptions about criminal behavior — especially when it perpetuates harmful stereotypes — is totally unacceptable.”

Does this apply to cops too or only the homeless? I’m confused because when I read through some of the ACAB sympathizers that have posted on BP it seems stereotypes are perfectly acceptable when it comes to those who want to completely dismantle the police force.

drs
Guest
drs

There are a diversity of opinions on police in the comment section of this blog. This is not a monolithic antifa discussion group. I think you’ll find that a thorough reading shows a range of opinions that include those who are totally anti police to those who think that the police presence in Portland should be increased abd that we need more policing. There are also many who fall between those poles.

Jonathan, the blog’s author, is not anti police, either.

Alex
Guest
Alex

Well, tbf, police are an organization that have rules around hey they act, a union, and a lot of other structure and history compared to individuals. Grouping homeless people together is a bit unfair because they aren’t a group, even tho they have something in common, whereas cops group themselves together enthusiastically and legally.

TL:DR; trying to equate an actual group of people to a social construction of individuals isn’t really fair or accurate.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

Well there it is. Anarchists burning buildings and firing steel projectiles at police are not assholes, it the police are. Man the ranking of this blog’s objectivity just tanked

Steve Hash
Guest
Steve Hash

Remember it is a blog, not expected to be objective.

VS
Guest
VS

Agree with this point. Jonathan is pretty transparent about his beliefs. I think that actually adds to the value of the site. Everyone has biases, some people try to hide them and others are clear. It helps to understand the issues and what filter is applied to issues.

I also appreciate that JM hosts a discussion where he has lots of disagreement and where people argue against his editorial positions. Healthy debate is rad.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

True enough that blogs are not news but rather opinion forums. My opinion is that Jonathan publishes some seriously wrong thinking

Jonah Markowifz
Guest
Jonah Markowifz

In my opinion Bike Portland is more of an activist progressive blog that touches on biking and transportation issues rather than a community centered news outlet on all things biking. I wish it was more of the later but I guess one can always choose to ignore it if they don’t like its slant. Ride on!

Kurt
Guest
Kurt

Why do you think the Anarchists aren’t assholes? Just asking since you are the only person who said that.

wombat
Guest
wombat

Police officers all chose to be police officers and are free to stop being police officers any time they like. Houseless people generally do not choose to be houseless and are mostly not free to stop being houseless any time they like. It’s ok to sometimes judge a class of chosen affiliates (e.g. a gang) by the behavior of their group. It’s never ok to judge a class of people who did not choose to be a part of that class (e.g. an ethnic group) by the behavior of their group.

If every cop except for 1 committed a crime, I’d feel pretty comfortable saying “fuck cops,” even that 1. If every houseless person except 1 committed a crime, I’d try not to persecute the one innocent person for an affiliation they did not choose.

JeffP
Guest
JeffP

Meh. What happened to KGW? Used to be my no. 1 local TV news source; now, it is a hip entertainment fluff piece. I haven’t watch since the transition.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I’m with you there, JeffP. I’ve watched Dan Haggerty’s smarmy broadcast a few times and always came away feeling icky – like I needed a shower. Give me back the good old “objective” news reporting – the facts, please ma’am, and just the facts, without the faux-hip spin.

Bob R.
Guest
Bob R.

This would be the same KGW News which, back during one of the Proud Boy riots, aired footage of pro-Trump rioters in a pickup truck charging at pedestrians in a crosswalk (presumably some of whom were counter-protestors), and in the video those people in the crosswalk CLEARLY had the walk sign and the truck CLEARLY had a red light, but nonetheless KGW’s Pat Dooris proclaimed that protestors were “blocking” motorists. So, not exactly “objective”. Sad because I still think KGW does a better job than the other local affiliates, but “better” in this case has become “slightly less terrible”.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Local TV news exists primarily because of ad revenue from TV spots targeted at their suburban boomer audience. None of their coverage is surprising when you realize this.

squareman
Subscriber

Don’t watch news. Just don’t. Read. With rare exception, American network and local affiliate broadcast news and cable 24-hour news programming are the Rohypnol of informing yourself.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I agree, not ALL the bikes and piles of bike parts are stolen. Based on the presence of shopping carts labeled Safeway, Target, and Home Depot, I’m pretty confident that some of them are. Maybe others believe it’s just a coincidence, I don’t.

Clark
Guest
Clark

Seems like the author is deleting any comments criticizing his apologist stance. Surprised this one got through.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Conspiracy! You figured it out.

eawriste
Guest
eawriste
bjorn
Guest
bjorn

I have to agree with this, when I see dozens of bikes being moved around on a lumber cart that was stolen from the nearby home depot it certainly makes me suspicious that it isn’t just a homeless person with a legitimate huge bike collection.

PdxPhoenix
Guest
PdxPhoenix

I do not believe there is any way a person can accumulate a large number of bike (parts) legitimately. Seems even less likely if they’re living in a tent on the sidewalk (or “a van down by the river”).
Now, I suppose such a thing is possible, it just seems improbable, and to assert that it is likely is uncredible.

ivan
Guest
ivan

Thanks for posting this Jonathan. I’m a little shocked KGW couldn’t even do basic investigative reporting like, say, seeing that the task force’s social media is still active! But your larger points about the collective guilt (and collective punishment) applied to people experiencing homelessness is really important.

Unfortunately I’ve seen KGW, KOIN and KATU all operating under this dehumanizing and dismissive position. (I don’t watch the local Fox news often enough to have an opinion, but I’d guess it’s similar.) OPB is marginally better.

I hope KGW/Dan Haggerty issue some sort of correction.

Vernon Martin
Guest
Vernon Martin

Well Jonathan if as you say the PPB bike theft task force is alive, it is on life support. Their last tweet was in December, a lifetime in the social media world. Of course since you stated you are anti-police you are probably glad about that. Don’t mean that in a mean way it just sounds like you want to eliminate PPB and replace it.

squareman
Subscriber

Hmm. Lazy, histrionic reporting on TV, imagine that. Why most people continue to get their news from TV will forever frustrate me. Garbage in = garbage out.

Clark
Guest
Clark

Why do we need to defend those who steal from us? Jonathan, even your own reporting shows chop shops getting busted for stolen property, sometimes hundreds of bikes at a time. Housed or not, I’m not afraid to call a crook a crook. Portland has surrendered.

Jim Talent
Guest
Jim Talent

The police have been told not to enforce camping laws. The city has significantly scaled back sweeps and paused them all together for over a year. Citizen complaints about rodents, feces, needles, broken glass, etc. are dismissed unless the complaint meets an incredibly narrow criteria. Anyone pointing out illegal, unsafe or even just unpleasant behavior associated with homeless camps is called a “NIMBY” and dismissed by a cabal of keyboard warriors. When will BikePortland tackle those problems? You can spend all the energy in the world insisting that camps aren’t associated with bike theft, but it’s not going to change the mind of anyone who possesses a lick of common sense.

Mike
Guest
Mike

When Dan said the BTTF was no longer, he was quoting the PPB. “We do not have a bike theft task force.” Portland Police Bureau
Can’t really fault KGW for getting the facts wrong when they went right to the source; who better to ask about the TF if not the agency allegedly running it? It does make me wonder though, if the PPB doesn’t even know that they have a task force, how effective could it possibly be?

Mike
Guest
Mike

Also – from your own story on 1/13/21:
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.”
So I guess technically there is a task force, but it is currently suspended?

Jason
Guest
Jason

I feel like you have the justification for being upset. Given that you’re interview was skewed by a perverse narrative.

Caelin
Guest
Caelin

One time I was buying food and someone came in, emptied the tip jar, and walked out. The person working there explained that the offender hits every business on the street, every night. The police tell them to let it happen so it does not get violent. They jailed him before, but keeping him in jail costs taxpayers quite a lot more than the price of an apartment, and when he gets out he just goes back to his old ways. If a criminal can not pay the fines and fees, its even more of a strain on public funding. There are a lot of examples of situations where police are expected to respond, but are not actually capable of solving the problem. Thats why Portland is attempting to join the civilized world by organizing other methods of crime prevention that address the root causes, and save money at the same time. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

A large number of police have said the same thing. Police reform *is* pro-police. Re-investing some of their funding towards partner agencies with the right tool for the job just makes sense. To call it “defunding” is a bit misleading, its more like re-investment. Abolition is something else entirely, dont confuse the two. Abolition may also have value in Portland because of the rampant, decades old, well documented and proven corruption in the PPB. Again, Ive heard the same thing from some cops. The culture within police departments will surely improve as their role in the community becomes easier and better defined, when all the right tools are on the table.

Maddy
Subscriber
Maddy

I’m struggling with this comment, because I worked low wage tipped jobs for many years. It is the tipped workers’ responsibility to nonviolently cede part of their pay because the thief has violent tendencies? For the greater societal good because jail is too expensive?

I don’t want to give the current police department another dime, and think they are holding the city hostage, but any substitute system still needs to enforce a social contract. Antisocial people with violent tendencies can’t just be allowed to abuse others because it’s cheaper.

Madison
Guest
Madison

It’s clear Jonathan doesn’t like dissenters of the narrative he’s trying to cultivate here but I know my last bike that was stolen is sitting in one of these bike “piles” somewhere in the city.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

You “know” the bike is in one without knowing where. Seems to me you have misused the word “know”.

Chris
Guest
Chris

I’m not even convinced there is money to be made off of most of the bike piles I see. Take the camp blocking the MUP at 205/Columbia/Gateway (please!). There have been bikes and parts sitting there for months at this point. Last weekend some of them had been tossed into a bonfire. If these bikes were a source of money, why have they been there so long?

Most of what I see is just junk steel. Does anyone know how people make money off this stuff? Do the local scrapyards accept parted bikes?

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

Yes, you can get cash for scrap metal of nearly any kind. Mixed steel/aluminum is really not that valuable, so I can’t imagine it is worth it to strip bikes down just for scrap value.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

That is a great question. I would love to read an in-depth report on the economics of being a bike thief. I don’t see a lot of what appear to be stolen bikes on Craigslist, although maybe I am naive. When I had my third, or was it fourth? bike stolen in Eugene, I found out where some of the bikes end up. There was a store called the Red Barn and the bike thieves would show up very early in the morning (like 5 am) and a truck would show up, and load them up and drive away. I showed up and there was maybe 10 guys and 25 bikes from the previous day’s thefts. I was told that the bikes were taken to another city for resale. Price varied between $25 and $50, even for $1000 bikes. I recovered two of my stolen bikes, one with help from cops, and on on my own. One had been purchased at a garage sale, and I repossessed it. The other had been screwed up with different parts, so it would look like a different bike. I got it back, but it was essentially worthless.

Ted Eyerson
Guest
Ted Eyerson

Jonathan,
Did you remove the “thumbs up” counters? I’m thinking you didn’t like all the the law and order comments got as compared to your “anti-police” comments.

PdxSpot
Guest
PdxSpot

Theft is theft. PDX is settling in to a new normal – “it’s only a bike”. That is where PDX is on so many issues. The city needs leadership – and support – it can’t happen fast enough.