Bike shops assist customers against crime
Bicycle theft nearly doubled in 2020, according to data gathered by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
In the fall, the Santa Barbara Police Department warned residents of such thefts. By late October, police gathered 320 cases of stolen bicycles — 159 of which were valued at over $950 each.
The results may not be surprising, as more “lost bike” signs get papered around town and neighbors post pictures of their stolen cruisers on NextDoor.
The problem existed prior to the pandemic, making some jaded prior to the jump in reports. Prior to 2020, all of the sheriff’s jurisdictions, except for Goleta, were seeing a decline in bicycle theft. (Goleta was fairly steady with 30 incidents each year.)
In 2019, the sheriff’s department received 133 reports of stolen bicycles. There were 245 bicycle thefts in 2020, an increase of 84%.
Theft, in general, increased almost 27% in 2020. Bicycle theft increased significantly more than shoplifting or stealing possessions out of cars.
Open Air Bicycles, located at 1303 State St. in Santa Barbara, has a wall with pictures of stolen bicycles.
The store helps customers track their serial numbers and puts the business’ sticker on the bicycles.
Griffin McMillan, a mechanic and salesperson at Open Air Bicycle, said the store has “recovered an immense amount of bikes” through stickers and serial numbers.
The Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition registers serial numbers in the National Bike Index. Registration is open to the community at sbbike.org/registration.
Police officers can check a bike’s serial number, which is usually on the bottom bracket, against the registry to return it to its owner.
Mr. McMillan recommended steel u-locks by Kryptonite, especially for those who leave their bicycles locked outside an apartment complex.
“If you have to do that, then you could have a motorcycle lock,” he said. “It’s hard to steal double-locking chain locks that you can use on a motorcycle.”
His main advice is not to leave bikes out for very long. He’s even seen bicycles stolen out of Open Air’s pickup trucks while waiting at a stoplight.
“People think they can leave it overnight after hitting the bar or something,” he said. “Maybe don’t leave it for more than a good chunk of time. There’s a whole economy of stolen bikes here.”
He has noticed places he calls “chop shop houses” where people alter stolen bicycles to evade detection.
He, like many others, points out the plethora of bicycles visible in encampments.
“They’re just littered with bikes. There’ll be like 50 bikes in one spot,” he said.
It’s not hard to find possibilities of bike theft. Some locations have 20 or so bikes for sale on Craigslist, though bike hobbyists can repair and sell bikes legally.
Play It Again Sports, a new and secondhand sporting goods store at 4850 Hollister Ave., has policies to prevent selling stolen bikes.
Before buying a bicycle from someone, staff check the seller’s ID and log it into a government database.
“We don’t just buy it from someone who comes in without confirming their identification,” Andrew Arnold, the store’s owner, said.
Those without valid identification are turned away. Some come back the next day, and others don’t.
“People who bring in stolen goods, they’re not getting anything out of them,” he said.
Although Mr. Arnold is not the original owner of Play It Again Sports, the policy existed before he bought the business.
He’s confident that they don’t buy stolen bikes, but sometimes a customer that buys a new bike will ask for help recovering the stolen property.
“I think the staff here has done a good job of making people uncomfortable who bring in stolen gear,” he said.
The market for stolen bicycles is likely online, where buyers pay in cash. Buyers of second-hand bikes can see if the bicycles are stolen by checking the serial number at bikeregister.com/bike-checker.