Lost, stolen bikes pile up in Ada County

The Ada Sheriff’s Office hopes to reunite owners with their missing property.

kterhune@idahostatesman.comAugust 31, 2013 

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“These all belong to somebody. We just don’t know who,” says Lisa Mitchell, property and evidence supervisor for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office.

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

  • DOES ADA COUNTY HAVE YOUR BIKE?

    Bicycles can be claimed between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Check in at the records/information window in the front lobby of the Public Safety Building at the Sheriff’s Office, 7200 Barrister Drive in Boise. Bring proof that the bike is yours — a serial number, a code for a lock, etc.

    Residents can be proactive about bike theft. You can register your bike with the Boise Police Department and the National Bike Registry. If a registered bike is turned in, officers can call the owner right away — even if a police report has not been filed.

In the Sheriff’s Office evidence cage, nestled beside stolen lawnmowers and confiscated kegs, stand rows of orphaned bicycles.

Bikes lost, stolen, or abandoned around Boise are lodged here. Some are turned in to the Sheriff’s Office; others are found by deputies.

In the fenced-in area, tyke-sized two-wheelers stand tagged next to sleek racing bikes worth hundreds or thousands of dollars.

“It’s kind of shocking how many just turn up,” said Ada County sheriff’s spokesman Patrick Orr. “The cage is always full.”

There are currently almost 200 bikes in lockup, said Lisa Mitchell, evidence and property supervisor for the Sheriff’s Office.

The number of bicycles peaks in the summer when more cyclists hit the roads or the trails, she said.

Every bicycle is held for at least 90 days before it is auctioned to give owners a chance to reclaim it. Sometimes, Mitchell holds a bike longer, hoping an owner will come.

Most of them don’t.

If the bikes are not claimed, they’re auctioned off at propertyroom.com. The money from the auction goes into the Ada County general fund.

Mitchell said she would rather see the bikes reunited with their owners.

“If the bike belongs to you, we want you to have it,” she said.

Mitchell and the other evidence employees work hard to help people whose bicycles are lost or stolen. Twice since June, owners have called the evidence department too late, looking for a bike that had already been shipped out.

The bicycles are shipped from Boise to Seattle, then to Southern California where they are sold. Mitchell and her colleagues tracked down both bikes, and the auction company shipped them back to Boise for free.

One of the pair had already been broken down for parts. The evidence employees reassembled the entire thing at the Sheriff’s Office before handing it over to its thrilled owner.

“They’re really happy, and we’re happy,” she said. “You feel like you put a puzzle together.”

Orr said the best way for owners to prove a recovered bicycle belongs to them is to know its serial number.

Deputies run the numbers through a national database of stolen and missing bikes. If the owner knows the number and includes it in the police report, it is instantly flagged and can be returned right away, he said.

Mitchell urges cyclists to use their phones to snap photos of their bikes and the serial numbers. That’s what she did for her own son when he started to ride.

“If he’s riding his bike to school, or around town and loses it, I know what the serial number is,” she said. “That’s the surefire way to make sure you get it back, regardless of if it’s in Meridian or it’s in Salt Lake City.”

Lost a bike, but never wrote down the serial number? Don’t despair, Mitchell said.

People have used photographs, combinations to a lock and even descriptions of scratches on a bicycle frame to prove their ownership.

But the evidence cage holds more broken hearts than happy endings.

In the last two years, Mitchell estimates that only about 50 bicycles were returned to owners who didn’t have the serial numbers. More are wheeled in every week.

Because little is known about the bicycles in the holding area, Orr said it’s difficult to know if they were stolen or simply misplaced.

“A good guess would probably be that they’re stolen and abandoned, but because we just find them, we’re not sure what their history is half the time,” he said.

Some of the bicycles in the cage were turned in to the Boise Police Department. The money from auctioning those bikes goes to the city, Mitchell said.

It makes her happy to see cyclists find their bicycles among the ranks and bring them home.

“It’s kind of fun to be able to give somebody back their bike that may have been stolen,” she said. “They thought they couldn’t replace it, or their kid was without a bike because somebody stole it, and we’re able to give it back to them.”

Katie Terhune: 377-6219

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