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.