It occurred to me that it might be useful to host a community dialog about the bicycle theft issue. I am a firm believer that to solve problems one must first thoroughly understand them. My hope is that by bringing together community members who care about this issue together we can learn about and figure out how to solve it. To this end, I set a date for the dialog for Friday, February 26th at noon in the atrium of the SLC library downtown. I sent a few emails to police officers and other public officials who I thought might be interested. After creating and printing fliers about the dialog along with a “Wanted” poster for Steel offering a $200 reward, I set off walking around SLC to spread the word and see what I could learn. Steve and I continued doing this during our next few days off.
Wow! Wow! Wow! We very quickly learned a ton about the ins and outs of bicycle theft– some aspects hopeful and some things very disturbing. Here’s a quick skinny and some great resources we got turned on to. By all means, please let me know what you think and if you have any ideas too.
Pawn Shops. This is how they work (I had no idea). When you bring an item into one, you must complete a form with your info and then a complete property description is written on it. In the case of a bike, this includes its serial number if it has one. Each night the pawnshops enter this info into a computer and it’s sent to the police department. In Utah, the pawnshops must then wait two weeks before selling the item. I suppose this all sounds reasonable, but here’s one major disconnect I found so far…
Police Departments. I spoke to multiple police officers that informed me that they do not have enough manpower to check property descriptions for stolen bikes. They only check for serial numbers. So if you file a police report, which includes a description of your bike and photos, but you don’t know your serial number (which I didn’t), then you are out of luck. The police will not normally take the time to check, let alone keep checking back to see if a pawnshop has uploaded a bicycle matching your description. But it seems to Steve and I that there is a solution to that problem (I’ll get back to that). For now, make sure you have recorded the serial number off your bike and taken a good picture of it. Now here’s what you should do with that info…
Great Resources. How’s this for a fortuitous meeting? I stop a gal on a bicycle to give her a flier and we get chitchatting. It turns out her boyfriend, Dave Iltis, is the editor of Cycling Utah (which anyone living in SLC and beyond knows is an excellent cycling magazine and online resource) and who she informs me is big into the bicycle theft issue. Before I even had a chance to write him, he wrote to me and provided me with all sorts of links to great resources related to securing and recovering my bicycle, which are relevant wherever you live in the US and I will now share with you. If you own a bicycle, be sure to take five minutes and register it on Bike Index (https://bikeindex.org) and get a bicycle license if your city offers on):
- Report a stolen bike: http://www.cyclingutah.com/bike-theft/report-a-stolen-bike/
- Guide to recovering it: http://www.cyclingutah.com/tech/uh-oh-whered-my-bike-go-guide-to-recovering-your-stolen-bike/
- Register your bike (an online tool for saving your serial number) http://www.cyclingutah.com/bike-theft/register-your-bike/
- Bike Theft Prevention tips: http://www.cyclingutah.com/bike-theft/bike-theft-prevention/
Thank you Dave! Now here’s my problem: I did not know any of this before Steel was stolen. I’m guessing I’m not alone. I believe there’s even a law in SLC that requires you to license your bicycle. Who knew that I’ve totally been breaking the law!
Another issue I learned more about from the owner of the bicycle shop Crank SLC (http://crankslc.com) related to high-end bicycle theft. He says only about 30% of the bikes he’s had stolen have been recovered. “The problem is that a ring of thieves come to town and rips off about 30 bicycles at a time, and then take them to other cities like Portland or San Francisco to sell,” he relayed in frustration.
Okay… so here’s one idea that Steve and I see could being useful to a couple of the issues mentioned. If bicycle descriptions are already sitting in police databases from pawnshops, Steve thinks that it would not be difficult to create a computer program that extracts that info and puts into another secure program that would allow victims of theft (after one has filed a police report) to do their own search for the stolen bicycle. Then the onus would be on the victim to keep searching and contact the police department if it turns up. Ideally this would be a national database so even if your bicycle turns up at a pawnshop in Portland, you would see it and the contact the police where you are to contact the police there. What do you think? Is someone out there working on it?
Also, could people living on the streets be part of the solution? Could there be incentives to turn in bicycle thieves? Bicycle theft is a problem for homeless people as their bicycles get stolen too. Maybe we could empower people and work together to advance various issues? This are just some of the many ideas that are percolating in my head. As Dave Iltis summed up nicely, “Bike theft is a problem with no easy solutions — it crosses into societal issues, drug policy, serial numbers on bikes, etc.” I am really looking forward to this community gathering and to seeing what we can all do together to help solve this issue. I’ll keep you posted.