Garage bike thefts rising

14 are reported in one month in west Columbia

Focus is on registration

August 20, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

A surge in bicycle thefts from open garages is prompting Howard County businesses and police to begin jointly formalizing bicycle registration.

Officials reported increased thefts from garages in west Columbia recently, saying there were 14 bikes stolen from July 12 to Aug. 11. In a typical month, police reports show a handful of bicycle thefts.

"They have increased substantially" each summer countywide for the past several years, said Capt. Michael Kessler, commander of the department's Southern District. "Personally, I think it is more threatening behavior" because it is happening at homes, rather than in common areas like shopping centers and parks. Most were stolen in the late evening or early morning.

Nationally, few bike thefts result in arrests because it is difficult to identify and track a bike without a serial number. To help local police, area businesses are offering to register bikes they sell.

In addition, Target stores in Columbia and Ellicott City gave a $1,000 check this week to Police Chief Wayne Livesay. Officials hope the money will allow police to offer more opportunities for owners to register their bikes at stores and elementary and middle schools. Officials would place a sticker on the bike warning that it was registered and including a serial number and a county police number to call if the bike was found.

The county's Hot Spot officers in Long Reach approached Bikes USA on Dobbin Road in Columbia, which agreed to voluntarily register serial numbers on bicycles its sells. Those numbers are then given to police.

"One of our cashiers had her bike stolen," said John Gover, a Bikes USA shop manager. "She recognized [the serial number] when the kid brought it in to get the tubes changed."

In the past year, the department has conducted two registration events, police said. At one last month in Long Reach, officials registered 52 bikes, said Joseph Parks, a probation officer for Long Reach's Hot Spot program, which provides a community with extra resources to prevent crime.

According to the most recent FBI data, 430,000 bicycles were stolen in 1997. They cost an aver- age of $293.

Gover said he sells bikes in Columbia for an average of about $350. Nationally, bike thefts cost $126 million a year.

Thefts from open garages are one of the fastest-growing methods of bicycle theft, said Todd Cadley, marketing communication coordinator for Kryptonite, one of the largest bike-lock dealers.

"A lot of people take for granted that if they put something in their garage, it's safe," Cadley said. "If the bikes are not secured in the garage, it's not."

Police said they do not know where the bikes are going once stolen, although there tend to be three motives: They are sold for drugs, pawned or used to make drug deliveries. Serial numbers are the best way to get an owner's investment back, they say.

Customers "buy a bike here for $1,000 dollars and then go to the Target and buy a $9 lock," Gover said. "We can just reassure them they need to have the [registration] paperwork."

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