Friday, October 15, 2010

Bike thefts plague Ketchum

Thieves targeting high-end bikes at owners’ homes

Express Staff Writer

Thieves are targeting expensive bicycles like this one in Ketchum. Forty-four high-end bikes have been reported stolen this year. Photo by David N. Seelig

Forty-four bicycles have been reported stolen in Ketchum this year, and not a single one has been recovered.

With more than two months left in the year, the number is approaching double what it was in 2009, when 28 bikes were reported stolen, or in 2008 when the number was 27.

It's a crime wave frustrating to bike enthusiasts and police alike.

"It's a big black mark for us if we have 44 unsolved crimes," said Ketchum police Sgt. Dave Kassner.

The number is likely even higher. According to Ketchum police, only 56 percent of bike thefts nationally are reported to police.

The Ketchum Police Department has made solving the crimes a high priority, but so far without success. But nationally, only about 20 percent of stolen bikes are ever recovered.

Ketchum is not alone. Nationally, bike thefts are on the rise, with estimates ranging from 500,000 to 1.5 million stolen each year.

However, there are some aspects of Ketchum that seem to make it a draw for bike thieves. First, according to the Police Department, a lot of people live in condominiums with little or no inside storage space. Second, people in the area have a tendency to be trusting and not lock up their property.

Third, there are a lot of expensive bikes in Ketchum. Thieves aren't going after run-of-the-mill bicycles in the city—they're targeting the high-end models.

The average value of the 44 bikes reported stolen is between $2,000 and $3,000. Some are valued as high as $5,000.

"It's a gearhead town," Kassner said. "Whether they're competitive or not, people like to have high-end equipment."

Also of concern to police and bike enthusiasts is the fact that most of the thefts have occurred at residences, sometimes when the owners were at home or not far away.

Brazen criminals

The most recent theft occurred on the evening of Friday, Oct. 8. Three competition-class mountain bikes, valued at about $5,000 each, were stolen from the porch of a condominium in northern Ketchum while the owners slept near an open window only a few feet away.

There were seven bikes locked together on the porch. The thieves cut the cable and took the three most expensive bikes, leaving the four others behind. They did it quietly, without waking the owners.

Greg Martin, director of the Wood River Bike Coalition, said thieves have become more brazen this year and the situation could potentially lead to violence.

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"I think the priority should be elevated a little bit," Martin said. "It's more of a public safety issue with the way it's happening."

Bicyclist Cameron Lloyd now lives in the mid-valley but had his racing mountain bike, valued at $3,700, stolen in May when he lived on Eighth Street in Ketchum near Atkinson Park. Lloyd said he left his garage door open for about a half hour while he went for a short ride on his street bike. When he returned, the mountain bike was gone.

There were numerous cars parked in his driveway and a large group of people at the park, but the bike was stolen anyway.

"They took it in broad daylight," Lloyd said. "Pretty brazen."

Ketchum Police Chief Steve Harkins said the thieves seem to be an organized group that knows what it's looking for.

"They definitely know the difference between a high-end bike and a regular bike," Harkins said. "We don't know if they're local or coming from out of town."

Harkins said the majority of the bikes have been stolen when they were unlocked and in plain sight, while others were taken while secured and out of view. A few were stolen while they were left unlocked on vehicles.

He said it appears that the thieves are scouting for bikes, finding the ones they want to take and then carefully planning when to take them.

"When we saw the trend this year, we made it a priority to start investigating it," Harkins said. "We're taking this seriously and we're doing everything we can to stop it."

Police investigation

Harkins said the Police Department has taken a number of steps to solve the crimes.

"We did that by assigning extra patrols, with officers working overtime shifts," he said. "We started stopping bikers at night to see if they were acting suspiciously and we've been stopping cars where they were acting suspiciously."

Police have also been keeping an eye on Internet auction sites to see if Ketchum bikes are showing up there and have been working closely with other police agencies to coordinate investigations.

"We also started doing bike stings, with high-end bikes placed in the community with undercover officers watching them." Harkins said.

So far, the stings haven't worked.

"That's a needle in a haystack—putting a bike out there and waiting for someone to steal it," he said.

The department has also started working with local businesses and bicycle clubs to organize a community-wide program.

"What we'd like the public to focus on is theft prevention," Harkins said.

Terry Smith:

Combating bike theft

The Ketchum Police Department acknowledges that bike theft is a difficult crime to solve and requests that bike owners focus on prevention. And if your bike is stolen, report it to police. Otherwise they have zero chance of solving the crime.

Recommendations include registering your bike's serial number with the Police Department and the National Bike Registry. That way, if a stolen bike is found, it can be returned to the owner.

Police suggest that bikes not be left outside overnight. If that's impossible, keep it securely locked and not in plain sight. Standard bicycle locking cables can be easily cut. Police recommend a U-shaped steel or high-security padlock and a hardened cable or chain. Lock the bike to something that can't be broken or ripped out of the ground.

When leaving your bike when out riding, lock it securely and leave it in a well-lighted place, preferably where there are a lot of people.

Lock your bike securely when it's on a vehicle.

Report suspicious activity to police.

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