Bicycle thefts drop in San Francisco by 25 percent

San Francisco may have missed last year’s target for a reduction in reported bike thefts, but the numbers are rolling in the right direction.

There were 537 bicycles reported stolen in San Francisco in 2018, a 25 percent decline from the 717 reported bicycle thefts in 2017, according to police. In 2016, there were 780 reported bike thefts with a value of about $1 million, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported.

“It’s encouraging with one note of caution,” said Brian Wiedenmeier, executive director San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. “We know bicycle theft is notoriously underreported.”

Wiedenmeier attributed the decline to the launch of neighborhood crime units at police stations, which the coalition supported last year to focus resources on combating bike theft along with other property crimes.

But he also suggested there may be another factor in play. Wiedenmeier said there has been a “significant explosion” in the use of rental bicycles through applications like Uber’s Jump and Lyft’s Ford GoBike.

A San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority spokesperson agreed that bike rentals are likely a factor.

“Bike thefts are likely decreasing for a number of reasons including the fact that there are more secure and safe bike racks available across The City and more people are using bike share to get around,” SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose said. “Options like bike share ensure that you don’t need to own two wheels to ride them.”

Police spokesperson Officer Joseph Tomlinson attributed the decline to increased patrols and foot beats.

Police Chief Bill Scott revealed the decline in bike thefts during a Jan. 31 report to the Board of Supervisors.

In his report on “Neighborhood Property Crime Units,” he noted the use of bait bikes by Mission Police Station. Mission along with Taraval Police Station were “Neighborhood Property Crime Pilot District Stations.”

Mission Station tweeted about the bait bikes in February.

“Mission Officers will continue undercover surveillance throughout the Mission Police District using ‘Bait Bikes’ to catch thieves,” the station tweeted alongside footage of officers catching someone stealing a “bait bike.”

At Mission Station, bicycle theft decreased by 4 percent, from 93 reported bike thefts in 2017 to 89 last year. At Taraval Station, reported bike theft decreased from 19 in 2017 to 17 last year.

While reported bike thefts have decreased citywide, the decline isn’t enough to hit the goal set by the Board of Supervisors in 2013 to have a 50 percent reduction in bike thefts by August 2018. The goal used 817 reported bike thefts in 2012 as the baseline.

City officials at the time said bike thefts were underreported and estimated total thefts could have been as high as 4,000 with a total value of $4.6 million.

To deter bike theft and reunite stolen bikes with their owners, The City launched a bike registry in 2014 through San Francisco SAFE, Inc., an anti-crime nonprofit.

Those who register are asked to apply a “SAFE Bikes” sticker to deter crime and let police know they can contact the owner.

The nonprofit was unable to provide how many of those registered reported their bikes stolen and recovered by press time.

A low bike theft rate is important if San Francisco wants to boost the number of people bicycling, according to Wiedenmeier.

While the number one reason residents give for not biking is safety when riding on the street, the second reason is the threat of having the bicycle stolen, he said.

“It’s a serious issue,” Wiedenmeier said.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to remove incorrect information from the Police Department. The department’s bait bike program remains active.

Joshua Sabatini
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Joshua Sabatini

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