An ordinance aimed at curbing the ability for stolen bikes to be disassembled and sold for parts on public property moved ahead as the Long Beach City Council voted to begin the crafting of legislation that would ban bike chop shops.
The item was proposed by Third District Councilwoman Suzie Price who said that while bike theft is an underreported crime, it is a crime that is felt citywide. Her proposed ordinance would make it illegal for a person to possess five or more bicycles, or various parts of bicycles, on public spaces or rights of way, like riverbeds, beaches or parks, with the intent to sell or distribute.
It would also allow the Long Beach Police Department (LBPD) or the city’s public works team to remove bicycles or bike parts from areas after issuing notices of violation.
“It’s really important, I think, if we’re going to be a city that’s promoting bike infrastructure that we do everything that we can to deter bike thefts but also to penalize those who might be using stolen bikes as a method of currency by creating bike chop shops,” Price said.
Because the city discontinued a bicycle licensing program, one that was run through the city’s fire departments and logged bicycle identification numbers with the corresponding owners’ information, it has become increasingly difficult to prove bike theft. The ordinance is not designed to impact bike theft directly, but by restricting the ways and places that stolen bikes and their parts could potentially be sold for profit it could have an indirect impact on bike thefts in the city.
According to the LBPD’s most recent crime statistics, bike thefts are on the decline. Last year there were 309 reported bike thefts compared to 507 reported bike thefts in 2016, reflecting a 39 percent decrease. Overall, reported thefts are down 52 percent in the period from 2012 to 2017.
In her memo to the council, Price said that the bike chop shop ordinance could serve multiple interests in both opening up areas of the city that were previously avoided because of the presence of chop shops, but also serve as a means of getting people who may be using stolen bike parts to support an addiction off the streets and connected with services.
“Not everyone who runs a bike chop shop is addicted to drugs, I’m definitely not saying that, but what I have found in talking to individuals and reading police reports is that bike parts are sold as currency for drugs,” Price said. “If an individual has a substance abuse problem then hopefully we’re able to get them in the system and route them to services as a term of their probation.”
Those caught with bike parts would not be charged with bike theft unless it can be proven that they were the ones that stole the bikes. In that case, they could be charged with a felony if the bike is valued over $950.
The public largely supported the proposed ordinance as a way to ensure that a bike friendly city can have cyclists that don’t fear having their bicycles stolen when they ride them around town.
“In our view it takes a reasonable method, another tool in the tool box for our public safety folks to make this uncomfortable for this kind of commerce to take place,” said Maureen Neeley, president of the Belmont Heights Community Association. “Hopefully the fewer times and places this commerce can take place the fewer times that bicycles will be stolen and chopped up and resold.”
Nick Russo, communications director for Pedal Movement, a bicycle collective that operates out of Downtown Long Beach said that the ordinance was needed, but asked for some wording that would allow for the company’s future mobile bike projects to not run afoul of any law that is eventually passed.
“I think, like other speakers before me have noted, it’s obviously a huge problem and we see that everyday as clients come in remarking on their stolen bikes which, as much as we appreciate the business, is a really unfortunate situation to encounter,” Russo said. “While we are a valid business licensed in the city of Long Beach, we just feel that because these facilities will likely be taking place in parks and other public spaces, that it may potentially negatively affect our business.”