San Francisco looking into bike registry for theft victims

In a city where bicycling is so popular, it’s inevitable that thefts will occur. To help curb the growing problem, San Francisco is exploring a registry that could be rolling by the end of the year.

The City would create a database, most likely overseen by the Police Department, to help reunite owners with their stolen wheels and to send the message that bike thieves cannot operate with impunity.

“People do complain about it, there are a lot of thefts,” said Jennifer Dhillon, executive director of San Francisco Safe, a nonprofit that conducts crime prevention programs in partnership with police.

Dhillon said details are still being hashed out, but she expected a bicycle registration program would be launched by the end of the year.

“If there is a fee it will be nominal,” she said.

It is estimated that while 600 to 800 bike thefts are reported each year in The City, with the largest number in the Mission district and South of Market, there are actually thousands stolen annually.

Dhillon is involved in registry talks with police; the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group; and Supervisor Eric Mar, who added $75,000 to Mayor Ed Lee’s proposed San Francisco budget for the initiative.

“I think a registry would be a good step forward,” Mar said, adding that an official proposal has yet to be drafted. He said a nonmandatory registry also could be effective, suggesting it would be popular among cyclists.

A locally maintained registry would allow the Police Department to contact the owner of a stolen bicycle if it’s recovered and check if someone is in possession of a stolen bike.

A registry can take many forms. For instance, the Portland, Maine, Police Department’s website has an online form to register a bicycle for free.

“This information will help us to contact you and return your bicycle in the event that it’s recovered,” the website says.

“Protect your bike and your investment! Don’t let it end up at a police auction!” Madison, Wis., requires bicycle registration, with a four-year lifespan for $10.

In recent years, some large cities have abandoned similar efforts. Los Angeles discontinued a mandatory $3 licensing program in 2009 and San Jose abandoned its program in 2010 due to low participation.

Bike thieves can be brazen and strike at any time of the day. They are known to cut locks and ride off within minutes, peer through mail slots of old Victorian homes and break in if bikes are spotted, and sneak into garages to make off with stored bikes.

Police have said they believe bike theft rings exist, and stolen bicycles, or their parts, are sold at flea markets, online or on the street.

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