With a major decrease in bike theft recovery and prevention work from the Portland Police Bureau in recent years, and with thieves feeling little to no resistance from authorities, volunteer activists are stepping up to fill the void.
Everyday folks have always been willing to sacrifice their own time, and often safety, to help snag bikes back from thieves. And these days with social media platforms to help organize and inform, the potential for do-gooders to make an impact is stronger than ever. (Last month The Oregonian profiled a group of volunteers who track down stolen cars.) I recently heard about a local group that’s not only ferreting out stolen bikes, but is also trying to train up a new legion of volunteers to help them scale up operations.
The group calls themselves the Sith Lord Vader Squadron (SLVS) Timberwolves. A few days ago I tracked down their leader, Royal Johnson…
BikePortland: What’s with that odd name?
Royal Johnson: SLVS stands for Sith Lord Vader Squadron, the SLVS Portland chapter is one of five chapters in four states. We originally started in Austin, went west to Los Angeles, then from Texas up to Oregon and then over to Colorado. We have been active since June, 5th 2011. Royal Johnson (me) is National President over all five chapters. In Oregon the SLVS is known as the Timberwolves. All five chapters make it their mission to recover bicycles and help the cycling community by managing rides and events.
What’s your background in terms of riding and living in Portland?
I have lived in Portland since 2014. I moved here to go to school and live on my own. I flew the nest. I love Portland very much and I have ridden my bike here since I moved. It’s a very beautiful place, it has the potential of being a modern day utopia. I like challenges, so when I moved here I wanted to have a long lasting impact in this city.
Why’d you get into bike theft recovery?
I got into bike theft recovery because someone stole my bike long time ago before there was a SLVS. I tracked and recovered my own bicycle and I felt if I can do this for myself why not evolve the idea into something bigger?
What has your group done so far?
The Timberwolves have recovered many bicycles in the city since 2014. We have also assisted in getting camps cleared out with stolen property, mainly bikes. We’re working on a theft prevention tactic, and a strong offensive that raises awareness of how and why cyclist should understand the severity of being vigilant.
You focus on a lot of homeless camps. How do you make sure you don’t hassle innocent people?
We do not to disparage or falsely accuse the homeless of bike theft. We treat everyone with respect no matter who they are. They are very willing to help us with the information and recovery of bicycles upon request. If you treat people with dignity no matter where they are in life it is assured that you will get the same in return.
What are your events about?
The Overwatch Bike Recovery Workshops are the link between us recovering bikes and our community getting a full understanding of how this works and what they can do in a safe manner to effectively report cycle theft. Also, we would like to be transparent in our activities so we would like the community to be present as much as possible for accountability. We do the Overwatch workshops twice a month every month during the fall and winter.
How can people follow you?
You can find us on Facebook at S.L.V.S Timberwolves B.C. Cycle theft Recovery Strategies and on Instagram at Timberwolves_cyclerecoverypdx.
Stolen bikes just happen to show up in these camps and we just don’t know why!
This guy is a hero. Where can I contribute donations?
We would love some support, please email me at email@example.com if you’d like to help, thank you!
Oh man!, I knew it would be trouble [for some] once “wolves” were re-introduced into Oregon. ;0
This sort of dispels the “fact” that all of the bikes have been given to the occupants of the camps.
I wish them luck. There’s no way I would seek to recover bikes from these camps without backup by a few people with badges and guns.
What a sad state of affairs things have been allowed to slip to where we can’t even count on police or the city anymore, that people need to take things into their own hands. This election is going to be total cringe.
That’s what we get for voting in the same old sh*t time after time. Not sure how much worse things needs to get before Portlanders stop abusing themselves.
The reality is that any jurisdiction with good policing relies on citizen involvement – reporting incidents, assisting police on inquiries, citizen interventions, narking, neighborhood watch, police ride-alongs, and so on. Any community that relies solely on their police to take care of all crime is doomed for failure.
Isn’t there a presumption that the thirty bikes’ worth of frames and parts in each tent city chop shop are all the legitimately acquired property of those dismantling them?
Why not? You know what they say about rummage sales and collecting garbage – one person’s trash is another person’s treasure – it has been widely suggested that bike repair no matter how badly done is a form of therapy for many drug addicts and the mentally unstable. It’s too bad that Portland allows such an industrial operation on its city streets, but one can argue that the city does a better job enforcing land use laws and zoning on private property than it does regular criminal laws on public property – it’s all a matter of priorities, by its citizens, leadership, bureaucrats, and ultimately by y’all.
Do you also claim that the shopping carts with Safeway, Fred Meyer, Target and similar names were donated to the campers?
Bike repair? Give me a f***ing break.
At what time could Portland police have been relied upon to help with stolen bike recovery, any more than today? Others and myself have experienced ambivalence about it at least going back to the 1990s.
For several years during the heydey of the PPB Bike Theft Task Force they were doing an absolutely great fricking job at this. They had internal bike theft recovery trainings, grants to give away u-locks, they were at n’hood events, they did a bunch of investigative work and routinely busted bike thieves. It was pretty dang awesome and I think an excellent example of public working with PPB to make the city better. Then the protests came and it all went to shit.