New city service aims to bring bikes home

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June 12, 2013
By: Emma Cummings-Krueger
Emma Cummings-Krueger
Hundreds have voluntarily registered bikes since May

Thanks to a new citywide bicycle registration process, the chances of reuniting with a stolen bike are looking up.

Bicycle theft is a well-established problem in Minneapolis, but a lesser-known aspect of this issue is the convoluted return process for recovered bikes. Many stolen bicycles are ultimately regained by the police but never reunited with their rightful owners.

As of May 21, Minneapolis residents can now register their bicycles with the police department by simply entering some basic vehicle information, like a serial number and brand name. Registered bikes are entered into a city database under the owner’s name, linking cycles with their owners.

Registration can be completed available online, over the phone or via the Minneapolis 311 mobile app.

“It’s a really seamless and efficient process for the customer,” said Don Stickney, director of 311.

John Elder, director of the city’s Intellectual Properties Initiative, helped to develop the new bike registration process.

“Police really needed to shortcut the return process of stolen bicycles,” Elder said. “We spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with bikes last year.”

The Police Property and Evidence warehouse reported that 14,047 were bikes impounded last year. If those cycles remain unclaimed — as police report a vast majority do — they are either auctioned off the general public following a 30-day police hold, donated or given to a scrap yard.

“We wanted a way to get around the regular impound procedure,” Elder said. “Having a warehouse full of bicycle is counterproductive.”

With no easy way to identify or contact the owners, most recovered bikes are never returned. Police are unsure of the exact percentage of bikes that go unreturned because of inconsistencies between precinct reports. 

Other benefits

Apart from the obvious outcome of reuniting more bicycle owners with stolen vehicles, the new process could result in some additional benefits for citizens. Registered bicycle serial numbers could become a tool for police officers attempting to identify riders involved in crashes.

“This can help us to identity children or adults who are injured and can’t talk with us,” Elder said. “If we have someone who is unconscious and we have their registered bike, we can find out who this person is using their bicycle serial number.”

He said the new process is unlike any former bicycle identification method the city has used.

“This is leaps and bounds ahead of what we’ve had in the past,” he said. “This process is free and it’s voluntary. Police and dispatch will now have direct access to registration numbers, so instead of looking things up manually, we are using technology to benefit citizens and officers.”

A voluntary process

The city is working to increase awareness and access to the new bike registration service, but the real progress will stem from the actions of citizens. Ultimately, the process is voluntary.

“‘Help us help you’ is the motto of this administration,” Elder said.

Feedback for the program has been very positive, with many local bicycling groups supporting the effort. Erik Saltvold, owner and founder of Erik’s Bike Shop, said he has high hopes for the program.

“This seems like a really good effort to recover bikes, and I think it’s a positive step,” Saltvold said. “It’s really nice because it’s free. I don’t see any reason why someone wouldn’t want to take part in this.”

As of June 3, there were over 800 bicycles registered with the city. Among the bike owners to sign up was Chris Graham, an employee at Varsity Bike Shop.

“I have already registered all of my bikes,” Graham said in June. “I just spent one afternoon going through serial numbers and getting them all recorded.”

“I think it s a really awesome idea,” he continued. “Personally, having had a bike stolen, it’s something that makes me very happy.”

Police, too, have been pleased with feedback on the new process, Elder said.

“People are really appreciative that the police and the city are doing something to curb and address the issue of bike theft in Minneapolis,” he said.