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Online registry should help police return stolen bicycles to owners

Since bikes were invented, bikes have been stolen.

Returning bicycles to their rightful owners may get a bit easier in Spokane, thanks to a new online tool the city unveiled this week in conjunction with Bike to Work Week, called SpokaneBikeID.org.

About half of all cyclists have had their bikes stolen, according to a recent study in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, and only 2.4 percent of stolen bikes are returned to their owners.

In Spokane, property crime is notoriously high. In 2013, the latest year FBI statistics are available, Spokane’s property crime rate was higher than all but two of the 180 or so towns and cities in Washington. The police department reports that it’s gotten better since. Property crime is down 14 percent so far this year compared to last, for instance. Still, tracking down a stolen $200 road bike is not exactly at the top of the list for police.

“I started thinking about this a long time ago, probably three or four years ago when I was in the property evidence room and there were hundreds of bikes,” said City Councilman Mike Allen, who led the effort to create the registry. “Everybody seems to have had the experience of having their bike stolen. I’ve had my bike stolen. The mayor’s had his bike stolen.”

Chief Frank Straub’s bicycle was stolen, too. (Though his was recovered.)

Using the new online tool, bike owners are asked to enter their bike’s serial number, brand, color and size, as well as a photo of the bike. If the bike is stolen and turns up in police possession, it will be returned.

Officer Teresa Fuller said about 50 bikes end up in the police evidence and property room every month. If the owner can’t be identified, the bikes are sold to the highest bidder. Every year, more than 500 bikes are auctioned by police, Fuller said.

“The only way that we really have to get these bikes back is if people report them stolen and have the serial number,” Fuller said.

Spokane COPS shops currently collect the same data, and will continue to do so for those without access to the Internet.

Dave Breidenbach, who owns Spoke ’N Sport on North Division Street, said he supports every effort to return stolen bikes, though he said the program could go further.

“It does nothing to stop the dealing of stolen bikes,” he said, pointing to the market of used bikes on Craigslist and in pawn shops. “People steal to sell. There is no way for a consumer to check on a serial number.”

Allen said he was pleased with offering people a free way to register their bikes, but hoped the program would “evolve” to contain the tools Breidenbach proposed before year’s end.

“We’d like to have the pawn shops involved in this,” he said.

Breidenbach said involving people who buy bikes would curtail the selling of stolen bikes, but he noted it wouldn’t completely prevent the practice.

“There will always be stolen bikes,” he said.


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