Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Police target epidemic of bike thefts with ID effort



By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Hamilton Police Officer Don Taylor looks at tags of unclaimed bikes in the Hamilton Police Department property room.
(Michael Snyder photo)
| ZOOM |
HAMILTON - Mark Tokarczyk is one of the fortunate few.

Police received reports of 168 bicycles stolen through September this year. They recovered 94. But they were able to find owners for just two bikes, including Tokarczyk's.

Police here and across the nation have problems reuniting owners with bicycles - many of which cost hundreds of dollars - that are recovered after being stolen.

"It was stolen right out of our garage, which is just amazing," Tokarczyk, 30, said about his $600 Gary Fischer Aquila mountain bike, which he discovered missing Sept. 8. "I thought it was going to be gone for good .... We almost did not file a police report; I'm glad we did."

Tokarczyk, who got his bike back because he and police both took some extra steps, said he likes an idea city police are advancing: Joining with the National Bike Registry to help return more bicycles to their owners.

The department wants to establish a partnership with the registry, something that a couple of dozen other Greater Cincinnati police agencies have already done. Under a proposal that Hamilton City Council here is considering, police would charge a $10 fee to provide owners with tamper-proof registration stickers and would help them list their bikes' serial numbers with the registry. Police officers who find bikes may access the registry's secure database to check for ownership matches.

"With this service, even if the bike turns up somewhere else in the country, we can find out who the owner is, and the owner can get their bike back," said Sgt. Thomas E. Kilgour, Hamilton police spokesman. Other registration terms are available at varying costs.

According to the National Bike Registry, fewer than 3 percent of unregistered stolen bikes are returned to their owners - and bike theft is a $1 billion business. It's also a fast-paced one. Experts estimate it takes only seven seconds to steal an unlocked bicycle; even locked bikes also can be stolen within seconds.

Across the nation, about 1.5 million bicycles are reported stolen each year, the registry says; registered bikes are nine times more likely to be returned to their owners than are unregistered ones.

In a typical year in Hamilton, police receive at least 200 stolen bicycle reports, recover more than half of those stolen - and can return only a couple of dozen to the owners, said Officer Don Taylor.

As a result, about 100 bicycles end up being sold at the department's annual auction of unclaimed property; in the meantime, the bikes stack up in the department's property room.

"We just had an auction in June, and that place is full again," Kilgour said.

Police think teenagers are committing most of the bicycle thefts. "These kids steal bikes, ride them from one end of the city to the other, and get rid of them," Kilgour said. "It's transportation."

Officers find discarded bicycles, many in good condition, in all manner of places, Kilgour said: "in people's yards, in the street, on sidewalks and in parks."

But few bicycle owners have recorded their bikes' serial numbers, kept the purchase receipt or left any kind of identification on the bicycle, Kilgour said, making it next-to-impossible for police to find the owner.

Police, however, may trace available clues, as in Tokarczyk's case.

When Tokarczyk's bicycle showed up in the property room, Officer Rob Payne recognized it as an expensive model. He also noticed that a pouch emblazoned with the name of a bicycle shop, Montgomery Cyclery, was attached to it.

So Payne called the shop and described the recovered bicycle. The shop identified Tokarczyk as the purchaser. Tokarczyk also had recorded the serial number on a police report. So, police were able to verify ownership and return the bicycle to him.

"The system worked in my case," Tokarczyk said.

But he thinks the registration system might help more bicycle-theft victims get their property back.

For more information: www.nationalbikeregistry.com.

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

Area police registering bikesOhio: Blanchester, Cincinnati, Clearcreek Township, Cleves, Deer Park, Forest Park, Georgetown, Goshen Township, Lebanon, Lockland Lynchburg, Newtown, North College Hill, Sabina, St. Bernard, Springboro, University of Cincinnati, Xavier University.

Kentucky: Dayton, Fort Wright, Newport, Northern Kentucky University, Thomas More College.

Indiana: Connersville, Rising Sun.

Source: National Bike Registry




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