With stolen bikes mounting in Long Beach a study to determine if an app could help deter, recover stolen property was approved June 20.
Bike thefts in Long Beach may become easier to track, prevent and potentially recover in the future if the city manager’s office finds it feasible to initiate an application-based registration system for bikes following a vote from the city council to move forward with the study Tuesday night.
The city manager’s office will look into whether it’s feasible for the city’s police and technology services departments to collaborate on a voluntary, online and app-based bike registry, potentially using the city’s existent GoLongBeach app as a home for the new bike registry. The study was proposed by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price who said that the city is averaging about 30-40 reports of stolen bicycles per month, but Price says that number is likely higher.
“The problem that we see with bike thefts is unfortunately they are underreported,” Price said. “The data that is maintained by our police department and many other police departments doesn’t accurately reflect the magnitude of the problem.”
According to crime statistics from the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD), bike thefts have declined from April 2012-April 2017, the last month’s statistics have been posted by the department. Bicycle thefts have dropped over 54 percent, according to the figures posted to the department’s website with 93 thefts reported through April.
A total of 167 bikes were reported stolen in 2016. The high over the past five years was recorded in 2015 when 247 bikes were reported stolen. The average over the past five years is about 200 bikes per year.
Reported or not, bike theft in the city has risen to the level of local infamy, with a local retailer even memorializing victims’ losses with T-shirts reading: “I Got My [Bike] Stolen in Long Beach”.
A screenshot of Bike Index's interactive map showing stolen bicycle locations and other information needed for recovery.
The city’s fire departments used to run a bike registry system but discontinued the practice in 2011 due to low participation that left the program failing to cover the cost of administering the service. Even then, the recovery of bikes was rare as people often failed to keep track of their bike’s serial number, didn’t have pictures of their bikes to show police or other information that could have led to the return of their stolen property.
Currently city residents’ option for registering their bikes is through the National Bike Registry (NBR), which has partnered with the 529 Garage, a stolen bicycle reporting and recovery online platform.
Together the two entities have helped create an interactive map for localities that not only show where bikes have been stolen, but also track how long ago they were stolen and often display pictures of the bikes. 529 Garage charges subscriber fees for both individual bike owners and local police departments. The LBPD does not currently have access to the 529/NBR registry.
There is no current cost estimate as to what the app could cost the city, that figure is expected to be presented to the council when the study is completed.
A representative from Price’s office said that cities like Portland and San Francisco have used similar programs to create bike registries, San Francisco by partnering with its police department and a local non-profit, and Portland working with the non-profit Bike Index as well as utilizing multiple Twitter handles to help reunite riders in the PDX area with their bikes.
Price’s motion was largely supported by her council colleagues including Fifth District Councilwoman Stacy Mungo who offered a request that their be a partnership of sorts at the retail level, where stores selling bikes would both help educate and push bike owners to register and keep track of vital bike information needed for a police report in the event that it’s stolen.
Mungo, who has previously questioned the efficiency of the city’s web portals and the GoLongBeach app, said that it may be more helpful to pursue those collaborations with stores and push residents to use the national registry versus counting on the city to develop another app.
“What is challenging for me to say is, once again, we already have apps that need significant work and I’m still frustrated that our GoLongBeach app is not at top shape,” Mungo said. “It’s marginal at best at this point. What I don’t want to do is create more apps. Our online data portal is not where it should be, and so while I support the general idea of this, I just don’t see how our departments have made the strides that we need to in technology to open up another platform.”