Bike thefts on the rise in St. Helens area

by: SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: ROBIN JOHNSON - Recovered bikes line the walls of the St. Helens Police Department garage. St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss said the garage holds anywhere from 50 to 150 bikes at any given time. St. Helens may not have a bicycle culture as spirited as that of Portland — fraught with expensive leather saddles, fixed gears and the occasional double-decker — but bikes are stolen on a regular basis just the same, law enforcement officials say.

One characteristic of the St. Helens bike thefts is that, often, thieves don’t have to break locks to abscond with their loot.

“We take bike thefts all the time,” said St. Helens Police Chief Terry Moss. “What is consistent is the bikes are unsecured, and rarely does the owner keep track of serial numbers. And even more rarely do they apply an OAN, or owner-applied number, to identify the bike. That almost never happens anymore.”

While bike thefts are a common problem in the city, St. Helens Police Officer Jeremy Howell said there have been more lately. He said officers will sometimes make an arrest, book a suspect, then see the suspect a couple hours later on a bike.

“We know they stole it,” Howell said, adding there’s nothing officers can do in such a scenario with no evidence. Howell said thieves often use the bikes — commonly mountain bikes — for temporary transportation, then simply ditch them when they arrive at their destination.

On May 24 in St. Helens, a suspect reportedly stole one mountain bike from a resident on Alderwood Drive and rode it for about two miles before ditching it for a higher-quality bike, which the suspect stole from a residence on North 11th Street. Both thefts were reported to the St. Helens Police Department.Moss

“I think the sense locally here is somebody needs to get somewhere quick, they take a bike to get where they’re going and dump it,” said Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson.

Moss said the department’s garage typically holds about 50 to 150 bikes at any given time. For every 10 bikes recovered by the St. Helens Police Department, Moss estimated about one is returned to its owner. The rest are donated or — if in poor condition — trashed.

“At least two times a year, we post a notice, ‘These bikes are found property, please claim them.’ Nobody does,” Moss said. “We declare them as surplus, donate them to charities or dump them if they’re beyond repair. We get so many that sometimes people leave with pickup loads of bicycles.”

Moss said that, contrary to bike thefts in Portland, the bikes stolen in St. Helens typically aren’t expensive.

“I’ve been following the stolen bike scene in Portland. They deal with higher-end bike thefts,” Moss said. “We don’t have a lot of that here. Most that enjoy higher-end bikes are riding them on the weekend. You don’t usually go down the street and see a $1,000 Cannondale lying in the front yard.”

He said part of the problem St. Helens is experiencing could be due to a drop in bicycle prices, causing owners to be more careless about storing their bikes.

“The price has gone down to where if you lose an $89 bicycle, the level of concern is not all that great,” Moss said. “With a $1,000 bike, you keep a lot better care of it. What we see mostly are what I call disposable bikes — disposable because of the cost.”

Although the department deals mostly with low-end bike thefts, the occasional $1,000 bike does get stolen, Moss said.

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