Bicycle theft is a common property crime in Juneau — and one that rises to the level of more than an annoyance if you have invested in a higher-end bicycle, which could run you well above $1,000.
Compounding the problem is the fact that, even when the Juneau Police Department recovers stolen bikes, its staff often has to declare them as abandoned.
JPD Lt. Kris Sell estimates that the department collects about 100 bicycles a year, and only a dozen of those will be reunited with their owners.
“The large majority never make it home,” she said. “It’s a shame.”
Sell and JPD, in collaboration with Juneau Rides, is aiming to change those statistics, helping with drives to register local bikes through an online system called 529 Garage. Two such drives have been held recently, in Douglas during the Fourth of July and at the Duck Derby earlier this month.
“I’m very excited about the bike registration program,” Sell said. “There’s way too much bicycle theft in Juneau.”
Juneau Rides, a branch of the Juneau Freewheelers Bicycle Club and Juneau Mountain Bike Alliance, sponsored the partnership between JPD and Project 529, with matching funding coming from Cycle Alaska.
“Bike theft in Juneau has become a considerable problem in as well as numerous other petty crimes,” BryAnne Rounds of Juneau Rides wrote in a recent email. “It is our belief that with joint community and JPD efforts, we can prevent if not curb bike theft in our community.”
Rounds said she began trying to bring together interested stakeholders last fall, after her $2,000 mountain bike was stolen.
“I managed to get my bike back by putting up a reward and stomping the streets for several days,” Rounds said. “During this time, it became evident to me JPD was overwhelmed with other thefts such as in-home invasions and business vandalism, and bikes were of low priority. Citizens like ourselves needed to help with creative solutions.”
The registration event at the Duck Derby was particularly successful, Rounds said, adding, “We had a wonderful turnout and registered so many bikes that we lost count.”
The bicycle registration drives allowed volunteers to show people how easy it is to register, Sell said.
The old registration system used by the police department was very localized and not very user-friendly, she said. In contrast, on 529 Garage, bike owners can enter every bike owned by their family in the virtual garage and the system is searchable by brand of bicycle.
“It’s so easy,” she said. “You can register it, with a picture, in five minutes on your phone.”
The online registration system is not confined to Juneau, so it will help if stolen bicycles are being shipped out of town, Sell said.
“We’d really like to see this spread, because the more it spreads, the better it will work,” she said.
Juneau Rides also proposed a “bait bike” program, which has not been successful as yet, Sell said. A bait bike program would entail leaving a bicycle, installed with a tracking device, in a location that would be attractive to a thief. Police would then track down the bike, and hopefully, the thief. There are similar programs in Portland, Sacramento and San Francisco.
Part of the problem locally for the program is finding a usable bike that will be attractive enough, or expensive enough, to steal, Sell explained.
After 90 days, bikes recovered by JPD that are not claimed are declared abandoned. The department tried using one of those bikes as “bait” for potential thieves, with no luck.
“There’s a risk you will lose (the bait bike), so we have hesitated to risk a high-end bike,” Sell said. “We don’t want to lose thousands of dollars every time we go out — that would not be sustainable.”
Sell said the department is looking into improving the tracking system for a better bait bike, but added that it is really stressing bike registration as a more proactive step to combating theft.
• Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 523-2246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.