SAN DIEGO — More than 9,200 bikes have been reported as stolen in the city of San Diego since 2018, according to new data obtained by CBS 8.
The high number of stolen bikes comes as San Diego grapples with rising crime numbers and as residents complain that rampant homelessness and a lucrative black market for stolen bikes fuel the high number of thefts.
According to data obtained through a public records request, 2018 saw the highest number of stolen bike reports in the past five years. The number dropped to what was the lowest entire year's count in 2019 before jumping back up to 2,145 stolen bikes in 2020 during the pandemic. Last year, the numbers dipped again to just over 2,080 reports of stolen bikes. So far this year, San Diego Police have recorded 774 reports through the end of June.
Mike Baleme was one of the thousands of bike owners who had his bike stolen. Baleme says he locked up his bike in San Diego and when he came back all that was left was a single tire.
"I'm angry, you know, and a little sad because I work hard for my money, and my property was stolen," said Baleme.
Bryan Hance is co-founder of Bike Index, a non-profit that registers, recovers, and protects bikes worldwide. Hance estimates the value of stolen bikes in San Diego is in the millions. Hance attributes the high number of bike thefts to a lack of enforcement by police, the drug and opioid epidemic, and a lucrative online black market.
"It's a huge problem and it's going to get a lot worse," says Hance.
Hance says it is important to register your bike and report it stolen as soon as it happens.
Others, such as Baleme, who had his bike stolen feel the city should start focusing less on minor infractions and more on stolen bikes and property. "I definitely think there needs to be more enforcement instead of ticketing people for parking in wrong spots, look after people's property," said Baleme.
Meanwhile, a city spokesperson says the city and the police department work to return any suspected stolen bike to its rightful owner. The spokesperson also stressed the importance of registering your bike with the state.
"Generally, if the police come across a bike that appears to have been stolen, they will first attempt to identify the owner of the bike. To do this, they will check if it is licensed by the owner through the State of California or check the serial number on the bike to see if it has been reported stolen," said the city spokesperson. "The difficulty in this process is many do not license their bikes and the stickers can be removed, and owners may not know their bike’s serial numbers and which can also be scratched out by criminals."
In regards to recent reports of makeshift bike chop shops spotted in homeless encampments throughout the city, the city spokesperson says returning those stolen bikes is a difficult task.
"In the case of encampments, there currently isn’t a process in place for sorting and determining the best way to return, re-home, or recycle the bicycles," said the spokesperson. "The Environmental Services Department is responsible for sorting of belongings during encampment abatement, not the police."
Last month, when covering complaints of city crews destroying bikes that were found at homeless encampments during clean-up sweeps in East Village, the city told CBS 8 that it was in the process of developing a new proposal to impound confiscated bikes and allow people to come and claim them.
The city spokesperson tells CBS 8 that the city is continuing to work on that proposal.
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