In a warehouse deep in the industrial area of Long Beach’s Washington neighborhood, hundreds of bicycles sit unused, waiting to be claimed by their owners or—more likely—to hit the auction block.
After being stolen, these bikes were recovered by Long Beach police officers, but the LBPD can’t trace them to their owners. The bikes stay in the warehouse for at least 90 days before the department can call an auction company to sell them.
When an owner reports a bike stolen, he or she needs to include a serial number in the report. If police recover the bike, they run the serial number, and if there’s a match, they can call the owner and tell him or her to come pick up the bike. The problem is people don’t usually know the serial numbers on their bikes.
“If the serial numbers aren’t reported stolen, it makes it difficult because there’s so many ‘blue beach cruisers,'” LBPD Cmdr. Erik Herzog said.
Herzog said that about 50 to 60 bikes are reported stolen each month, but the actual theft rate is likely much higher because many people don’t go to the police when a bike is stolen.
Bike theft is not a new problem. For years, people have stolen bikes and then sold the parts piece-by-piece. More recently, impromptu bike “chop-shops” have cropped up in public spaces, Herzog said.
“We have a number of bike chop shops that we’ve found in homeless encampments,” said Councilwoman Suzie Price. Her district deals with a lot of bike theft.
Social media and websites like Craigslist also provide easier avenues for thieves to off-load their stolen merchandise, Herzog said.
“It’s easy, and as soon as you (disassemble) them, there’s no serial numbers on the rims or the components so as soon as you start parting them out, it’s difficult for us to trace,” he said.
The department takes in about 800 to 1,000 bikes per year, including ones held for evidence or safe-keeping for prisoners. Last year, they sent 845 to auction.
Glen Spencer, a police department administrator who runs the warehouse, estimates it’s holding about 600 bikes right now.
For someone to be reunited with his or her stolen bike is rare, evidence clerk Joe Jiménez said.
But police and the city hope one tool will help reduce the inventory: the national bike registry, or Project 529.
The LBPD and Price are both pushing people to register their bikes. When registering online, owners are asked to provide a photo of the bike, the serial number, a description of the bike with the make and model and the owner’s contact information.
The City Council in March directed the city manager to partner with Project 529 to create a free bike registration program. In February, the council directed the city attorney to draft an ordinance that would ban chop-shops in public spaces.
While the police don’t have the man hours to run every single recovered bike through the registry, the registration still increases the likelihood of an owner getting a bike back. By registering a bike, the owner has put all the information they need for a police report in one place.
Price’s office has started promoting bike registration with events around the city. The second registration event will be Saturday near the Belmont Pier from 9 to 11 a.m. There, people can register their bikes and get registration stickers to deter thieves.
Price said her office plans to have the registration booths at upcoming community concerts too.
What to do if your bike has been stolen:
- Locate the serial number. If you don’t have it on hand, try contacting the bike shop you got it from to find out if they have it.
- Report it to the police through the online reporting system with the serial number and a photo.
- When the police recover it, they will run the serial number to see if it has been reported. They will contact you to pick it up.
- If you believe your bike may be in the warehouse—keep in mind the police hold on to bikes for only 90 days— call 562-570-7260.
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