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Bicycle theft on the rise in Boulder County

In the time it took to purchase a sandwich from a shop in downtown Boulder, Nancy Trigg’s bike was cut from its lock and stolen.

The Boulder resident ultimately found the bicycle at an alleged chop shop and was able to retrieve it with the help of the Boulder Police Department. It wasn’t registered, Trigg said, but she had photographs of a large dent on the bicycle that helped confirm it was hers. She’s since placed a sticker reading “Please don’t steal my bicycle. Thanks.” over the dent.

Nancy Trigg poses with her bike, which was stolen and returned earlier this year. (Eddie Clark/Courtesy photo)

While bicycle theft is not a new phenomenon, Trigg noted that something about it feels different.

“What’s different now is it’s blatant,” she said.

Indeed, bicycle theft is on the rise across Boulder County. Both Boulder and Longmont reported an increase in the past year. In Boulder, more than 1,000 bicycles valued at about $1.9 million have been stolen in 2020 from individuals and bicycle shops. In years past, the city reported an average of 700 bikes stolen annually.

Travel east to Longmont, and the story is similar. According to Longmont Police Sgt. Matt Cage, 211 bicycles have been reported stolen this year, an almost 10% increase from the year prior.

“Most property crimes are up all across the state, including Longmont,” Cage wrote in an email.

Although people self-report the value of their bike when it’s stolen, the Boulder Police Department said the average value of each stolen bicycle is more than $1,000. The figures extend through early December.

“Stolen bicycles are a chronic problem here in the city of Boulder,” Boulder Police Strategic Data and Policy Advisor Beth Christenson said in a Dec. 10 town hall meeting.

As such, the department has begun a targeted effort to combat the problem by teaming up with Bike Index, a nonprofit that helps people register their bicycles. The free service helps law enforcement locate and contact people who own a stolen bike that’s found.

“If your bike is stolen and you have registered it and it is found outside the jurisdiction, other agencies can quickly find where the bike is from and who it is registered to,” Christenson said.

Bryan Hance, co-founder of Bike Index, said he helped start the nonprofit organization when he realized that it made sense to have a central place for bike shops and cyclists to go to register bikes and search for stolen ones.

Marketplace in August reported that the disrupted supply chain led to a bicycle shortage. Hance referenced that shortage and other impacts of the coronavirus as some of the reasons for the rise in theft.

“It’s been a really busy year for bike thieves,” he said.

People often send the Boulder Police Department photos and videos of suspected bicycle chop shops, or places where stolen bikes are taken apart so parts can be sold or used on other stolen bikes. However, spokesperson Dionne Waugh said it’s difficult to track “chop shops” within the department’s records. Further, the police department isn’t always able to confirm that suspected locations are, in fact, chop shops.

“Regarding this site, Boulder Police responded to this location this afternoon and placed into evidence a couple of bikes and tools.  Unfortunately, none of the bikes were reported stolen. There was evidence of a fire pit, bicycle parts, spoiled food, tents, shopping carts, and other miscellaneous property,” Police Chief Maris Herold wrote on Nextdoor in response to a photo that residents sent in.

As part of its continued efforts, the police department will soon be rolling out an interactive dashboard with stolen bicycle statistics, maps of hot spots and other data, and a department legal adviser has created a legal bulletin that advises officers how to properly stop someone who may be riding a bicycle that is suspected to be stolen.

Nancy Trigg’s bike, which was stolen but has since been returned, now has a sticker on it reminding people not to steal. (Eddie Clark/Courtesy photo)

Although the Boulder Police Department said that most bikes are stolen from individuals and not businesses, a slew of local bike shops have been broken into in the past few months. At Full Cycle, for example, two bicycles, each valued at $3,000 and belonging to customers, were stolen. At Trek, one for-sale bicycle valued at $5,500 was stolen. Two men were arrested Sunday in connection with the break-in at Trek and another at Cycleworx.

Full Cycle caught the incident at its shop on a security video, and owner Russ Chandler said the problem has gotten out of hand in the past year.

“It was a problem before, and of course, it’s been exacerbated since COVID,” Chandler said.

Stolen bicycles also are a problem at the University of Colorado Boulder. According to university information shared this fall, bike theft is the No. 1 crime on campus.

“In the vast majority of bicycle thefts, the bicycles were either unlocked, improperly locked or locked with inadequate locking devices such as lightweight cables or chains,” the university wrote.

To protect against bicycle theft, Economical Insurance recommends using a U-lock, pairing it with a sturdy steel chain and looping the chain through the wheels. Economical also suggests making the bicycle unique so it’s easier to locate if stolen and taking note of the serial number.

Similarly, the Boulder Police Department recommends registering bicycles with Bike Index and using a U-lock as the best ways to protect against theft.

However, many people who report stolen bicycles also report having locked them. Andrew Bleeda of Boulder said his bicycle was locked in downtown Boulder when someone took it apart and stole some of the pieces. His bicycle was less costly than many of those stolen, but that doesn’t make the situation any less troubling.

“I was just sad about it. I still haven’t fixed it,” he said.

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