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Bike Theft Frequently Asked Questions

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a female police officer with 2 recovered stolen bikes.
The Police Bureau takes reports on stolen bikes, but without any means of identification (such as serial number), it can be difficult to have probable cause to seize a stolen bike as well as return recovered bikes to their rightful owners.
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Register Your Bike

We have partnered with Project 529 for bike registration.

 Regsiter Your Bike

I found an abandoned bike in my yard. What can I do about it?

Likely these are stolen bikes that have been abandoned for one reason or another.

We recommend that you check the national public registries for posted stolen bikes. Just go to Project 529 and run a search. If an owner is found, feel free to message the owner and they can pick it up.

Otherwise, contact the police via the non-emergency line 503-823-3333 to request that the bike be taken to the property room as found property. [Note: you can be listed as the property owner and petition to take possession of it if no owner is located in the next 60 days]

What happens next? The bike sits in the property room to await a match for an owner. We (police) can check our police reports for any reported thefts.

“I found my stolen bike online for sale!” What can I do now?

Most common online platforms to look on: OfferUp, Craigslist, Let Go.

Here are some suggestions, though ultimately, it will be up to the officer who assists you.

1. Save a screenshot of the posting and record any contact info from the posting.  (once these are taken down, they cannot be accessed)

2. Copy the URL (the https:// address) of the item and seller.

3. Attempt to make contact with the seller (we recommend the use of a fake email or user account) and set up a meeting to “buy” the bike. Suggest a highly visible location that is accessible to the public.

4. Once a meeting time/location is established, notify the Portland Police via the non-emergency line 503-823-3333. If this is done 60-90 minutes in advance of the meeting time, this lead time should allow the officer to be dispatched in a timely manner. A public place such as a Starbucks is a commonly chosen meeting location. The dispatcher will likely ask for your stolen bike police report number, so have that handy when you call.

NOTE: We ask the victim to be involved at some level so they can positively ID the bike as theirs or not. We often will ask the victim to wait until they see visual confirmation of the bike at the meeting location, and then notify us while we wait nearby.  We then will confirm the identity of the bike, negotiate the recovery, and investigate the incident. 

**Important: Bring any additional documentation of your stolen bike to prove ownership. This includes any photos of the bike or known visual peculiarities about the bike. This is especially important if you don’t have the serial number available.

**Never do anything you aren’t comfortable with or anything that would put your own safety in jeopardy.

“I am buying a used bike.” Is there anything that I can do to ensure I don’t buy a stolen bike?

This is a good question we often get, and a good one because there are potential criminal implications for purchasing stolen property. The burden of proof is placed on you to do your homework before purchasing something from a private seller.

ORS 164.095 Theft by receiving: A person commits theft by receiving if the person receives, retains, conceals or disposes of property of another knowing or having good reason to know that the property was the subject of theft.

-If it’s too good to be true, it probably is! Please don’t try to suppress your conscience without making an attempt to ask more questions/make observations that might answer those suspicions. Buying a bike you think is likely stolen is inexcusable and perpetuates the theft cycle.

-If it seems fishy, it probably is! Trust your intuition. Notify the police if you think someone is trying to sell you a stolen bike. Maybe we can help answer some questions.

-Conduct a quick 60 second search on www.Project529.comto ensure that it’s not listed stolen there.

Good questions to ask are:

  • Where did you get the bike?
  • How long have you had it?
  • Can you tell me about any modifications you made to it?
  • Do you have any paperwork for the bike?
  • Can I have your name/phone number? (It’s a good idea to ask to look at their ID)

Ask yourself:

  • Are the answers consistent/quickly produced?
  • Is the person being purposefully vague about the details?
  • Does the bike seem out of place with the seller?
  • Does the size fit the seller’s build?
  • Are there locks still attached to the bike? (If the seller says he “doesn’t have the keys with him right now” =STOLEN!)
  • Is the frame dented? (indicating that it was forced from the lock during a theft)
  • Does the seller even know much about the bike?

Bad question to ask the seller:

  • “Is it stolen?”

-Nobody would ever say “yes”, so this is a pointless question.

-If you find yourself about to ask that question, Walk Away!  You are probably looking at a stolen bike.

Looking online can be a great place to start your search for that new bike. We just ask that you use caution given the volume of stolen goods being resold out there! Hope these suggestions help. 

“What if I buy a stolen bike?”

If you purchase a stolen bike online, you could be found liable both civilly and criminally. If a buyer buys a documented stolen bike, police have the authority to seize the stolen property and return it to the owner, without any compensation to the buyer.

The burden of proof is on the buyer to take necessary steps to ensure that they are buying a legitimate bike from a legitimate source.

We know not everyone has the sales receipt, but why not ask if they have it or a bill of sale? At the least, they should be able to tell you exactly where they bought it from, which many times can be verified by the shop.

Think about asking to see some ID from the person selling you the bike, in order to document who you bought it from? Seems reasonable if you are buying a multi-hundred dollar purchase. If you get a lot of push-back, this may be an indication that the circumstances are not what they might seem.

Below is the Oregon Revised Statute that addresses possessing stolen goods:

164.095 Theft by receiving.

(1) A person commits theft by receiving if the person receives, retains, conceals or disposes of property of another knowing or having good reason to know that the property was the subject of theft.

      (2) It is a defense to a charge of violating subsection (1) of this section if:

      The person makes a report in accordance with ORS 165.118 (3)(a).

      (3) “Receiving” means acquiring possession, control or title, or lending on the security of the

       property. [1971 c.743 §129; 2009 c.811 §9]

It is also good to note that selling a stolen bike is a felony.

***  Please be cautious out there and limit your liability by asking a few questions.  ***

What does “Bike Registration” mean?   

Bike registration is the weakest link in the fight against bike theft!

“Bike Registration” is a method to identify an owner for a bike based on its serial number.

Why is this so important?

The serial number on a bike is rendered useless unless it is assigned to an owner. A serial number is the most reliable method for proving ownership. It is the easiest way for police to identify a stolen bike and most reliable method for charging someone with theft. Aside from being physically removed from the bike (which we see on a very rare occurrence), this is a permanent number for identification.

Why aren’t more people registering their bikes?

Bike Registration is not compulsory, (such as the DMV requirement for vehicle VINS) but voluntary, which is why it is so hard to get people to follow through with this. Understandably, many people don’t register because they don’t really believe that their bikes will be stolen from their secure bike room, work, or local bike rack. Many just haven’t made the time to walk out to their garage and spend five minutes writing down their serial number (Lazy?). 

The lack of registration often produces a challenging loop:

Owners do not register their bikes. Bikes get stolen, but they don’t know their serial numbers on their bikes. Police come across stolen bikes during patrol, but unaware that they were just stolen last week. After searching records for serial numbers on file, nothing shows up, so they release the bike. Owners note that police must not care about bike theft and therefore say “why should I register/report my bike if police aren’t doing anything about it?” Police remain frustrated that they can’t pursue bike theft charges because they are unable to locate ‘victims’ for bike theft.

So, we ask you to do your part and register your bikes. This is truly the only way we are going to be able to get a handle on bike theft! Please encourage your friends to register their bikes as well. 

How do I “register”?

Simple. Easy. Free!

Take the 3 minutes it takes to give your bike the best chances for survival!

Register Your Bike

NOTE: the city does not manage any bike registration database. You will be registering with the largest national bike registry, Project 529. They are our official partner in Portland. Project 529 even has a user-friendly app that makes it even easier to register!

What happens to my personal information once I register?

Police do not manage any of your personal information. We simply access your information through our public registry partner Project 529. This model is very successful and has returned numerous bikes to owners!

Where is the serial number on my bike?

Almost 100% of modern bikes have a serial number, and it is very easy to locate, usually in between the pedals on the underside of the bike frame. Generally, this is stamped into the metal on the frame, thus making it near permanent. For further info, Bike Index has some good tips:

  https://bikeindex.org/serials

How can I check if a bike is stolen?

Already bought a new bike second hand and want to be sure it’s not reported stolen? There are thousands of stolen bikes circulating in the community due to the high volume of thefts locally. Don’t be caught riding one. Perform your due diligence with a couple simple searches.

A good place to start is Project 529. This is a public registry where victims report their thefts. However, that being said, many victims will report their bikes stolen to the police and not report it publicly online, so it doesn’t hurt to ask police to check it.

What is the proper way to lock a bike?

Cable locks don't cut it.

  • ALWAYS use a quality U-lock or better.
  • ALWAYS spend $50 or more on a bike lock.
  • ALWAYS lock the frame to a secure bike rack.
  • ALWAYS lock the bike when parking indoors.
Diagram showing how to properly lock your bike.

What kind of Lock should I buy?

There are many locks available. Here’s our simple recommendation:

Spend at least $50 on a U-lock

We suggest a “U-lock” (also referred to as a “D-lock” ) as a minimum standard. It pays off to buy a quality U-lock, as many cheap locks can still be defeated easily. “Pay now or pay later” is our motto in this regard.  NEVER USE CABLE LOCKS as primary means of security. This are designed ONLY to use as a secondary lock to secure other accessories/wheels.

“My bike just got stolen!” What should I do now?

  1. Report it to police.

  2. Report it on Project529.com and Bikeindex.org
  3. Check online sales platforms periodically for the next 30 days (i.e. OfferUp, Craigslist, LetGo...) Read our suggestions for what to do if you find it posted somewhere.

What is the solution to bike theft?

Short answer: An engaged community that prioritizes bike registration. Police can hold thieves accountable and the black market will dry up.

Is “Bike Registration” really the secret to stopping bike theft?

Yes, though no real secret.  It’s free and simple. The hard part is getting people to do it. Common excuses: “It won’t happen to me”; “I’ll get around to it”; “It won’t make a difference”; “I don’t know how”.

Bike Registration has always been the weakest link. The other pieces will fall into place naturally if we can reach the critical mass of registered bikes in Portland. (The magic number in PDX is 100k). This has been proven on a large scale in Vancouver, BC.

When should I call the police about suspicious activity?

If you are having this conversation in your head about a situation, just call it in. That’s what your tax dollars pay for and the dispatcher can triage if it requires police response or not. For non-urgent matters, we would love to be notified so we can put it on our radar.

What do the Portland Police do with all the bikes stored at the Property Division?

Bikes are typically stored for 60-90 days and then auctioned off at GovDeals.com

Before they go out the door, a property division specialist puts the bike through rigorous checks to make sure we cannot link that bike to its owner.