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Stopping a Serial Crime

With more people bicycling to get to transit, police officers are finding themselves investigating more bike thefts.

Ron Pavlik, chief of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro) Police Department, said his agency is seeing a 35 percent spike in bike thefts this year at its stations in the metro Washington, D.C., area. And because the thefts happen in a shotgun-like pattern, Pavlik said it’s very challenging for officers to use traditional investigative tools to solve the crimes.

“We had to come out with a better way to help us help our customers,” he said.

To help customers and investigators, Metro Police launched a bicycle registry for riders so officers can more easily track down stolen bikes.

Customers who register their bikes have the unit’s serial number stored in a Metro police database and officers take pictures of the bike. Metro officers can then more easily identify stolen bicycles and quickly recognize them if they’re being listed on an online sales site like eBay or Craigslist.

Metro officers use dedicated bike theft police details, decoy operations, undercover police officers and deploy resources based on crime trends. However, Pavlik said if officers don’t have a serial number or picture of a bicycle that had been stolen it makes it much more difficult to be recovered.

More than 2,000 bicycles are parked at Metro stations daily, so Pavlik said officers are also doing outreach with riders about the proper ways to lock up a bike and giving out free U-locks, which are determined to be the best on the market.

“We were finding that a lot of customers were not using a high-end lock or just not locking their bicycle up properly,” he said.

Pavlik said the agency is also looking into chip technology for bike locks so they could only be opened with a smart card, similar to how Capital Bike Share riders access bicycles.

The agency is also looking into its stations to find areas where bicycle racks aren’t in direct lines of sight or could be placed in more secure areas. Pavlik said the agency is also looking into adding CCTV on all of its bicycle parking racks to monitor them and identify thieves.

But with the launch of the registry, Pavlik said riders have been signing up and taking steps to help officers in the event their bikes are stolen.

“Basically we want to know where they go and it’s a challenge,” Pavlik said. “But with the customer outreach and getting serial numbers and a getting a picture, it at least gives us a starting point.”