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Police have cache of stolen bikes

Departments look for ways to ditch bicycles crowding storage

Dozens of recovered stolen bicycles crowd law enforcement storage spaces throughout Columbia County, and with most going unclaimed, police say they're looking for creative ways to get them back on the street.

At any given time, the garage at the St. Helens Police Department might hold as many as 60 or 70 bikes. Scappoose usually has between 20 and 40, said Scappoose Police Chief Doug Greisen. Columbia County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Russ George said the county logs about 20 bikes a year.

'We'll finally get close to having them all out, and before you know it, we're full up again,' said St. Helens Police Department Lt. Terry Moss.

Over the years, the price of quality bikes has gone down, making them a more expendable commodity, Moss said.

'Part of the problem is bikes are almost disposable,' he said. 'When you lose a bike, it's almost like no one cares.'

Police say people don't take much care in securing their bikes at home, creating opportunity for casual crime. While most thieves won't take the time to saw off a lock or open a door, bikes kept outside and unlocked are their own getaway vehicle.

Police believe thieves aren't usually looking to sell stolen bikes, instead using them to go on a thrill ride or for temporary use.

Days, weeks or months later, someone calls in the bike as found property, or brings it to the station, said St. Helens Police Chief Steve Salle. But lost bikes almost never make it home, he said. Some parents just don't think it's worth the trouble to check with police.

'When junior loses his bike, his parents wait around a while. When it doesn't show up, then they go out and buy junior a new bike,' Salle said.

This creates an administrative and storage challenge for police.

It's a problem that reaches across counties and cities of every size. Many large cities have resorted to hiring 'bike recovery specialists' to deal with the resulting busywork. But small towns with shrinking budgets are also affected, Greisen said.

Each bike must be painstakingly logged into evidence. The law requires the bikes be kept for a minimum of 90 days. After that, bike dispersal, or disposal, becomes the real problem.

A list of bikes - including make, model and any known serial numbers - must be listed in local newspapers. The police then wait 60 days for victims to come forward. If no one does, the bikes must be approved as surplus property by the city council or county commission.

St. Helens and Scappoose have donated bikes to charities that refurbish them to give to low-income kids. One community group sends bikes to needy in Mexico. Still, more and more are going to the scrapheap or the landfill, Moss said.

'We're always looking for creative ways to give these bikes away,' Moss said. 'If someone has a project in mind, we've pretty much run the gamut.'

Tips to avoid bicycle theft

The best way to protect bikes is to keep them inside.

Write down the serial number and keep it in a safe place.

Scratch another identifying number into the bottom of the frame.

Most departments have identification stamps bike owners can use.

If a bike goes missing, report it immediately to law enforcement. They may have already found it.