Missing or stolen bike? Facebook group ready to lend a hand

Published 8:20 am Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Need help finding a bike that went missing or stolen? A Facebook group created by two Austin women looks to get the wheels turning and help get your bicycles back.

Mariah White, an Austin native, remembered a couple incidents where her little brother’s and nephew’s bikes were taken from their  backyard on two different occasions. The first time the bicycles were found in two different backyards and they were able to be retrieved. The second time, one of the bikes was found chained to a resident’s staircase, and White’s mother, Sheila, chased down a man who was trying to ride away on one of the stolen bikes.

“My mother got a hold of the landlord of the building where the bike was locked up and showed him the pictures of my brother with the bike,” White recalled. “He cut the lock for us and that was the second time they were stolen.”

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Both incidents happened mid-summer and prompted White’s mother to install cameras on her property to watch the driveway and backyard. There was also a metal bike rack that was installed, so the bikes would be chained every night. However, both knew there needed to be more done since others in town also experienced stolen bikes.

“When I grew up in Austin, it was way less frequent,” White said. “I’m sure it still happened here and there. It has only just recently in the last handful of years gotten extremely bad, and we haven’t received much help from the Austin Police Department.”

So, White set up a Facebook page called “Austin, MN Stolen Bikes” in an effort to help others with similar experiences communicate to find their missing or stolen property. Despite knowing that there were several incidents of bikes going missing around Austin, she was stunned to see more than 500 people having joined the group.

“I mean, we had a fairly good idea there was a lot of them,” White said. “But seeing the actual amount of people posting has been fairly surprising.”

One of the bigger aims of the group was to deter bikes from getting stolen and provide more vigilance.

“I think we all hope that kids will be more responsible for their own belongings,” White said, “but also, maybe deter them from taking the bikes since there are more people keeping an eye out for stolen bikes.”

Reports of stolen bicycles have been an ongoing issue, according to Capt. Dave McKichan of the Austin Police Department, with the more calls of bicycles coming in during the summertime.

“Especially during the summer, they’re one of our more common calls,” he said. “Many tell us ‘my bike has been stolen’ or it’s someone calling and finding a bike lying randomly at some place that was likely ridden and stolen too.”

McKichan said one of the more common things that happen would be someone steals a bike to get across town, and then dumps it on someone’s lawn after they finish riding it.

“It’s a consistent problem every year,” he said. “When we get an uptick, we remind people, and this is not a perfect solution, to lock up and secure their bikes with quality locks. These do resist being stolen than better than those that aren’t locked up.”

Having a consistent problem with stolen bikes not being returned led to the reconfiguring of the Red Bike Program’s bike-sharing model. After a significant number of bikes weren’t returned to the racks or being returned in poor condition, the motto “Ride. Respect. Return,” proved not to be sustainable, according to a previous story.

McKichan said while law enforcement wants to help the public with recovering a lost or stolen bike, it was important to make sure to grab as much information about the stolen property as possible, such as the serial number, make and model of the bike, in order to increase the chances of getting a bike back. If there’s no information to prove that a bike belonged to them, such as specific markings or unique characteristics, then it would be harder to prove if an alleged stolen bike is theirs — especially if there are similar brands and models that belong legally to someone else.

“That can be important for us,” he said. “It gives us the ability to track it. When we do recover some bikes, you can make an appointment to see if we have recovered your bike and it’s being held in the bike shed. We do everything we can to reunite bike owners, and when that doesn’t happen, we do auction them off when they’re not claimed.”

There were about 150 bikes taht were inside the bike shed as of Monday according to McKichan.

Those who have a bike go missing can call the Austin Police Department at 507-437-9405 ext. 1 or come to the Law Enforcement Center’s main window during business hours for a community service officer to take a report.

“The biggest thing we want for people is to lock it up with a high quality lock and having the serial number make and model recorded,” McKichan said. “That would be very helpful.”