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Bicycle thieves ride wave of crime

Police say better locks, attention help curb thefts


Ben Christ thought the bike looked familiar.

Christ, owner of the Hillsboro Bike Co., was looking at a bike that a middle-aged woman wanted to sell him one Saturday morning in March.

“That looks like Mike’s bike,” Christ thought.

Mike was a new employee and Christ had worked on the bike just a few days before. The closer he looked, the more Christ realized the bike did belong to Mike. by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - A thief tried to sell a stolen bike to Ben Christ, owner of the Hillsboro Bike Co. It belonged to one of his employees.

Excusing himself for a minute, Christ called Mike and asked if he knew where his bike was. Mike said it was in his car. But when Christ insisted he look, Mike realized it had been stolen.

“There was nothing about the woman that sent up any kind of red flags,” Christ says. “I told her she could leave the store without the bike.”

The woman left, disappearing into the bustling Farmer’s Market crowd outside Christ’s shop at 203 E. Main St.

Christ saw two police officers patrolling the market, told them what had just happened, and described the woman. They found and arrested her within minutes, Christ says.

Thefts of opportunity

Mike is one of the lucky Hillsboro bike theft victims whose stolen bike was returned.

Bike riding is up in Hillsboro and so are thefts.

Hillsboro police saw more bicyclists than ever during the summer and also recorded a sharp increase in thefts. According to statistics generated by the police at the request of the Hillsboro Tribune, 65 bikes were reported stolen from July to September of this year. That’s a 55 percent increase from the same period in 2011 and a 110 percent increase from April to June of this year.

“Bike thefts are way up,” says Hillsboro police spokesman Lt. Mike Rouches. “Our officers say they see more people riding bicycles around town, which is a good thing. But thefts are up, too, and that’s a bad thing.”

Christ is convinced at least five people tried to sell him stolen bikes in May alone. He will not buy any bike that shows signs of having been stolen, such as ground off serial numbers or nicks in the paint that could have been caused by saws cutting off locks.

Rouches, who heads up the Crime Prevention program, does not believe an organized criminal ring is stealing the bikes. Rather, he thinks they are being stolen as crimes of opportunity. Rouches says they are being stolen in all parts of town, although most of the thefts were reported from downtown and central Hillsboro. Several of the cases were theft from MAX stations.

Oddly, most of the thefts from the west side occurred on Thursdays and Fridays.

“Riders are leaving them outside on sidewalks, on their patios or in their garages with the doors open, and thieves are taking advantage of the situations,” says Rouches, who first noticed the increase earlier this year while reading through the daily crime reports.

The increase has also been reflected in the Police Log published in the Hillsboro Tribune.

Buying better locks

Rouches says very few stolen bikes are being recovered, suggesting that at least some of them are being taken for parts and dismantled.

According to the department’s statistics, the thefts apparently peaked in August when 24 bikes were reported stolen, a 9 percent increase from the previous year. The biggest increase — 69 percent — happened in July when 22 bikes were stolen.

Twenty bikes were reported stolen in September, a 17 percent decrease from the previous year. October statistics are still being compiled.

Across the region, bike riding has reported increased 190 percent since 1994. There are no recent studies on ridership in Hillsboro, but Brad Choi, a city transportation planner, says there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest many more people are biking here, too. In addition to the observations of the police, bike racks at public location are filling up more often, Choi says. And downtown now has three bike shops. They include longtime Bike ‘n Hike and two newcomers, the Hillsboro Bike Co. and a shop operated by nonprofit Washington County Transportation Bicycle Coalition.

Police are taking steps to reduce the thefts. Among other things, officers are distributing crime prevention literature in apartments and checking pawn shops for stolen bikes.

Rouches says bike owners can help reduce the thefts by bring them inside whenever possible.

“Always lock up your bike when leave it outside. But locks can be defeated, so bringing them inside your home or business is a better idea,” says Rouches.

Christ agrees.

“People don’t want to spend more than $5 or $7 on a bike lock, but you can cut those with scissors. Or they’ll leave them unlocked outside their house for hours. People need to know where their bikes are at all times,” says Christ.

Owners are also encouraged to record the unique serial numbers on their bike’s frame, the only place where it is stamped. Rouches says that although police can stop bike riders if they look suspicious, officers can only identify and recover stolen bikes if their serial numbers have been reported.