Bike thefts up sharply

Spikes over past two years show numbers dramatically above local average

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Did you know?

• The average number of bicycles reported stolen between 2001 and 2011 in Vancouver was 50.

• As of Aug. 1, there have been 92 bicycles stolen this year.

• There are 29 recovered bicycles in the Vancouver Police Department's evidence unit.

Bicycle theft prevention tips

• Use a strong lock, such as a U-Lock, to secure your bike.

• Lock your bike whenever you're not using it, even when it's stored at your house.

• Only use bike racks that allow you to secure your frame to the rack, not just the wheel.

• Ask businesses you frequent if you can take your bicycle inside with you while shopping.

• Use the BikeLink lockers to store your bike while in the downtown area.

• Register your bike's serial number, make, model and a description with Bad Monkey Bikes' "Monkey Shield" program.

• Use a cheaper bike for everyday errands and commuting. Reserve higher-end bikes for rides where you can keep an eye on the bike at all times.

SOURCES: Bike Clark County and Bad Monkey Bikes

Vancouver cyclists, beware — bicycle theft is on the rise, and summer is prime time to get your ride stolen. Reports of cycles stolen in the city spiked in 2012 with 125 thefts, according to the Vancouver Police Department. Last year, there were 165 reports of bicycle theft, nearly three times the normal amount reported annually in years prior.

Local cyclists say that the trend could be driven by more cyclists hitting the road, offering more opportunities for thieves. Police say the weather is a huge factor. So far this year, more than 60 percent of all the bikes thefts were reported in June and July.

Some bikes are snatched while they're left unlocked and unattended. Others are taken from residential garages. In some cases, with enough time and the right tools, the lock is cut and the bike is wheeled away.

Most that are stolen are adult-sized bikes worth less than $750, Vancouver police Lt. Scott Creager said. And, most of the time, the owners never see them again. They're swiped along popular biking corridors and in densely populated areas, such as downtown Vancouver.

Hayden Shepard lost his bike while staying at a friend's house overnight on Tuesday. The 13-year-old kept the all-black Mongoose freestyle BMX bike on the walkway near the front door, like he always did. The next morning, the bike was gone and his helmet had been left behind.

"I felt disrespected," he said. "That's basically my only transportation."

Shepard, who said he's had the bike about three years, would ride it to school and football practice at Frontier Middle School. Lesson learned? Don't leave valuables outside, he said. Although Shepard knows exactly what his bike looks like, without the serial number it would be difficult for police to return the bike to him if it's recovered.

Twenty-nine recovered bikes are sitting in the Vancouver Police Department's evidence unit waiting for their owners.

The vast majority go unclaimed, said evidence technician Kit Abernathy. After 90 days, some are donated to Fort Vancouver High School's metal shop class, while others go to charities and the more expensive bikes are auctioned off. Most of the bicycles they receive aren't worth much; they're in bad shape and missing parts.

"People just don't have serial numbers. That's the biggest thing," Abernathy said.

Catching a thief

When Eric Giacchino first moved to Clark County in 1994, he wondered if anyone else rode bikes. During his work commute, he would sometimes be the only cyclist he saw on the road. Nowadays, he said, it's not uncommon to see multiple cyclists queued up at the same stop light. As the cycling community grows, he said, so do incentives for bike thieves. More bikes, more expensive parts and quick-release wheels make bike theft attractive.

Parts can end up in chop shops or sold online on eBay or Craigslist.

Giacchino, the president of Bike Clark County, is no stranger to thefts. Two summers ago, the bike advocacy organization had a fleet of bikes stolen from the Hough Pool, where the organization had been storing them. The bikes are used to teach children bicycle safety.

Matthew Robert Smith was eventually convicted of second-degree possession of stolen property, and Jory John Aultman was convicted of second-degree attempted burglary for the crimes. Bike Clark County had another run-in with Smith, when he was found with a volunteer's bike a couple of months ago.

On June 20, Marcus Griffith was working with Bike Clark County in the uptown area. Before heading to lunch with Giacchino, he locked his bicycle to a rack in front of the building. People were milling around and residents were gardening in their yards, he said. "I felt perfectly safe locking it up with a cable lock," Griffith said. But, when they returned an hour later the bike was gone. The cable lock had been cut and a half-eaten poppy seed bagel was left on the ground where his bike had been. After searching and asking shop owners about the bike for a couple of hours, Griffith came up empty-handed and filed a police report.

About a week later, a friend recognized his distinctive Origin8 bicycle and called 911. A police officer met Griffith downtown and confronted the man riding it, Smith. Smith said that he bought the bike from a homeless man for $40, according to Vancouver police reports. He was arrested on suspicion of possession of stolen property.

Several days later, Smith allegedly confronted Griffith in downtown Vancouver, threatening and assaulting him. He told Griffith that he would stab him if he didn't drop the possession of stolen property charges and started following Griffith down Seventh Street, according to police reports. Smith then grabbed Griffith from behind and they started fighting, the reports said. When the fight broke up they both called police. Smith was arrested and recently appeared in court on suspicion of fourth-degree assault.

Who exactly stole Griffith's bike? It's difficult to prove without actually witnessing the person committing the crime. Griffith believes that bike thieves are rarely caught, and when they are it's easy for them to point the blame at someone else. The punishment for being found in possession of a stolen bike isn't high enough to deter people from committing the crime again. Smith, for his connection to the Hough Pool theft, served 28 days in jail.

"It's just the cost of business," Griffith said. He believes these crimes will be a growing concern for the city.

Monkey shield

To help combat bicycle theft, Bad Monkey Bikes launched a program last year called "Monkey Shield" through a collaboration with the Vancouver Police Department and Bike Clark County. The program allows bicycle owners to register their bikes at the Uptown Village bike store, letting the store keep track of the brand, model and serial number of the bike, along with the owner's contact information. A sticker that's difficult to remove is placed on the frame.

The Uptown Village business has nearly 500 bicycles registered through the program, according to the shop's owner, Wade Leckie.

So far, he's heard a handful of stories about cyclists being reunited with their stolen bikes through the program. Two of the bikes were recovered by Portland police, Leckie said.

Deterring theft, though, requires more than putting a sticker of an angry monkey on the frame. By the time Griffith recovered his bike, the Monkey Shield sticker had been ripped off.

"If you make it difficult, you'll deter a large portion of thefts," Leckie said. That means using a sturdy U-Lock and combining it with a chain or cable lock. He suggests asking about bicycle theft at local businesses you frequent. He's wary of leaving his bike at grocery stores or anywhere that thieves may think he'll be away from his bike for a while.

Leckie doesn't shop at the Safeway on Main Street near his house in Vancouver because he's had his bike accessories stolen there before, and the store won't let him take his bicycle inside with him.

"I'm just really conscious about where I lock my bike," Leckie said.

One of the easiest ways to prevent theft, at least in the downtown area, is to use one of the BikeLink lockers. Cyclists can store their bikes in the metal cage lockers for 5 cents an hour.

"I think they're really under-utilized," Giacchino said. "If you think about where you're going to park your car at night why wouldn't you think about where to park your bike?"

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; twitter.com/col_cops; patty.hastings@columbian.com.