Police budget cuts cripple bike theft response unit

The Bike Theft Task Force booth at a Sunday Parkways event in July 2016.
(Photos: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

The leader of the Portland Police Police Bureau’s Bike Theft Task Force (BTTF) says the unit has lost its only source of funding and will have to significantly scale back its work for the foreseeable future.

Officers with the task force had been doing regular bike registration events in partnership with Portland Parks rangers over the past few months. Last week Officer Dave Sanders took to the BTTF Twitter account to make the news public: “We are sorry to have to cancel this and other planned events,” he wrote. “Funding for our bike theft program is currently being suspended. Though the police bureau sees the value of these community efforts, we are facing larger budget cuts within our bureau that prevent us from continuing.”

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5 years after launch, PPB Bike Theft Task Force leader says problem remains ‘very bad’

Last month members of the Task Force joined with Milwaukie PD for a free bike registration event on the Springwater Corridor.
(Photos: Portland Police)

Bike thieves do not care about the pandemic. In fact, it’s probably encouraging them to steal more.

According to the Portland Police Bureau Bike Theft Task Force, bike theft in March was up 25% compared to last year. Task Force leader Officer Dave Sanders says it’s “very bad” out there right now.

The BTTF was launched five years ago this week. We haven’t reduced bike theft as much as we’d hoped, but the task force itself remains strong and is doing excellent work. While Portland is a leader in bike theft with about 10,000 bikes stolen each year (over one per hour), we are also a leader in recoveries. According to PPB data, they’ve recovered 30% more bikes so far this year than last. That’s $100,000 worth of stolen bikes back in the hands of their owners. The key? Registration.

“We could solve bike theft overnight if everyone would take a few minutes today to walk out to their garage and register their bikes,” Ofcr. Sanders shared with me this week.

Sanders is on the frontlines of the bike theft epidemic. As he scours the city looking for stolen bikes, he’s also been a victim himself. It happened back in January and it just happened again last week.

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Portland Police online crime reporting system now includes bike theft

Screen grab from PPB Citizen Online Reporting site.

In a bid to make crime reporting more convenient and free up officers for other calls, the Portland Police Bureau announced this week they’ve expanded the types of crimes that can be reported online.

Along with identity theft, telephone scams, shoplifting, and other crimes, you can now use the PPB’s Citizen Online Reporting System to report a bicycle theft. The new system can be used if the value of your bicycle is below $10,000 and there are no known suspects.

Officer Dave Sanders, founder of the PPB Bike Theft Task Force, says it’s a welcome step forward. “Hopefully this will encourage more folks to report their stolen bikes,” he shared with me earlier this week. Ofcr. Sanders added that he references police reports daily in his ongoing battle against Portland’s rampant bike theft problem (they’ve already recovered over 50 bikes so far this year). “We just got a bike back for a guy this morning in spite of an absent serial number,” he shared.

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Portland’s most prolific bike thief steals again, gets 25 months in prison

Bikes found at Parsons’ camp in inner northeast Portland late last month.
(Photos: Multnomah County DA/PPB)

“I think it’s a big win for the community.”
— Officer Dave Sanders, PPB Bike Theft Task Force

A man who has been booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center 80 times over a 20-year career and is considered the kingpin of bike theft in Portland is behind bars.

Again.

Leroy Parsons, who once boasted about his bike theft skills in a local television interview, has been given a 25-month prison sentence for violating the terms of his probation.

“I think it’s a big win for the community,” said Portland Police Bureau Bike Theft Task Force Officer Dave Sanders, in a statement published by the District Attorney’s Office today. “For the last 10 years, he’s been one of the pillars in downtown who networks stolen bikes.”

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Bike Theft Task Force officers host ride-along on the Springwater Corridor

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
Officers Dave Sanders (right) and Ben Labasan on the Springwater Path Saturday.(Photos: Portland Police Bureau)
PPB Officers Dave Sanders (right) and Ben Labasan on the Springwater Path Saturday.
(Photos: Portland Police Bureau)

Leaders of the Portland Police Bureau’s Bike Theft Task Force did a ride-along on the Springwater Corridor path on Saturday.

The ride was a spontaneous event that founder of the Task Force, PPB Officer Dave Sanders, posted to Twitter just a few hours before he set out. He was joined by fellow Officer Ben Labasan and the two of them were joined by a handful of citizens who showed up to ride with them. It was all part of the Bike Theft Task Force’s ongoing effort to involve the community in the work they are doing to prevent bike theft and recover stolen bikes.

Why the Springwater? “I’ve been wanting to see the issues along the Springwater firsthand and have been wanting to address some of the ongoing tips and complaints that we have received regarding bike theft in this area,” Ofcr Sanders said via email this morning.

Here’s more from Sanders:

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Portland’s most wanted bike thief gets unprecedented prison sentence

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
parsonslead

Leroy Parsons on a video monitor
during a hearing last month.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

A ruling yesterday by a Multnomah County judge marks a turning point in Portland’s ongoing battle against bike thieves.

Leroy Parsons, a prolific criminal and Portland’s most brazen bike thief, was sentenced to 30 months in prison. That’s the longest sentence ever handed down for bike theft according to Multnomah County Senior Deputy District Attorney Jim Hayden. Hayden and his team also convinced the judge to give Parsons a five-year probation period, much longer than sentencing guidelines dictate.

The sentence was the result of years of hard work by downtown bike patrol officers and it marks a significant change in how the DA’s office handles bike theft cases. It’s also a big win for Portland’s Bike Theft Task Force.

I spoke with DA Hayden on the phone this morning to understand more about why this case matters.

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The battle against bike theft in Portland has begun

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
theft-suspect

I had a long conversation with this
man under the Burnside Bridge last week.
He’s a bike theft suspect well-known
to the PPB.
(Photo J Maus/BikePortland)

Portlanders are rising up to fight the growing scourge of bike theft.

From the many sources I’m tracking, the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Portland Police Bureau, the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office, the City of Portland Office of Neighborhood Involvement, business owners, and other agencies and community leaders are taking the bull by the horns.

And it’s a big bull.

Through a mix of official enforcement actions and old-fashioned, grassroots neighborhood organizing both offline and through social media, bike thieves are coming up against a harsh reality: We are sick and tired of how out-of-control this problem has gotten and a feeling of “enough is enough!” has reached a boiling point in Portland.

After getting my bike stolen — and then taking it back — earlier this month, I’ve been learning as much as I can about the local bike theft scene. I’ve reached out to various players (including the alleged thieves themselves on one occasion) and have followed the issue closely. In the last few weeks I’ve noticed several separate actions taking place and figured it was time to share them here on the Front Page.

Here are some updates and ongoing efforts we’re following:

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PPB officer on a mission to curb downtown bike theft

Ofcr David Sanders PPB

Officer David Sanders.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

There’s a strong feeling among many in the community that the Portland Police Bureau simply doesn’t care about bike theft. I hear this sentiment all the time, and I agree that the bureau needs to step up and make this growing problem a higher priority.

In the meantime however, it’s good to know there are some PPB officers going out of their way to battle bike thieves. Officer David Sanders is one of them; but unfortunately he’s doing it inside a bureau that has yet to join him in the fight.

I met Sanders last week at his headquarters office in Old Town.

As he led me into a conference table, I noticed about 8-10 bikes strewn about. They were just the latest batch that Sanders and his partners have taken off the streets and now hope to connect with their owners. Sanders is one of six members of the the downtown Bicycle Patrol Unit (four of which are paid for by Portland Patrol Inc., a private security company that contracts with the PPB), whose job is to keep the peace on the streets. The bulk of his day is responding to low-level disputes and establishing relationships with downtown residents and business owners.

But whenever he can find a few extra minutes, his attention turns to bike theft.

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