Portland police busts bike chop shop, recover handfuls of bicycles

Portland police Officer Dave Sanders and his partner search a sprawling homeless camp underneath Interstate 5 for stolen bikes. (KATU Photo)

Amid the rumble of rush-hour traffic, Portland police officers assigned to the Bike Theft Task Force, search a sprawling homeless camp underneath the Interstate 5 overpass for stolen bikes.

The area nicknamed "Boneyards" is dotted with tents and tarps in plain view of the Eastbank Esplanade.

On Thursday, Officer Dave Sanders and his partner seized and recovered a handful of bikes. On Friday they returned, and recovered two more.

At the property storage facility, police are running out of places to store the bikes they recover. Almost all of the 700 spots are occupied.

"It's a huge problem," Sanders told KATU.

Sanders says bike theft costs Portlanders millions of dollars each year.

He estimates close to 15,000 bikes are stolen annually. At least 3,000 are reported stolen to police.

"Sometimes it will be a low-end bike, $50- $100," he said. "Other times, it will be a $2,000 bike."

Officers searched under the overpass and lifted tarps, revealing dozens of bikes and bike parts, including frames, wheels, tires, pedals and seats.

"[Thieves] don't really care, they just take whatever is the easiest thing to take," he said.

Sanders flipped over bikes and entered the serial number into a public phone application called Project 529 to determine if the bikes are registered and reported stolen.

"It's a deterrent if they know that this bike is registered and reported as stolen," Sanders said. "It loses its value in the secondhand market."

After years of increasing bike theft rates, Sanders says compared to this time last year, bike thefts have dropped nearly 15 percent.

This week officers reunited a stolen cycling bike with its owner.

"It's awesome we can reunite that bike to the owner," Sanders said. "It's the best feeling in the world."

A few tips from the Bike Theft Task Force:

  • Register: your bike. It's free and takes only a few minutes.
  • Lock: your bike when you leave it unattended.
  • Report: your bike when it is stolen. If police find it, you'll get it back.
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