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Are SFPD and BART Police Starting to Take Bike Theft Seriously?

BART police had some welcome news for Bay Area cyclists this week: An undercover sting led to the arrest of an alleged thief in possession of ten bikes and more than 100 bike parts. It's a nice follow-up to the SFPD's arrest last July of a thief who had 114 stolen bicycles.

Stories of successful bike theft crackdowns in San Francisco aren't common, but it's promising to hear that local law enforcement officials are directing resources to address the problem, since the perceived low risk of stealing bikes is what makes bicycles such an appealing target for thieves.

As Streetsblog New York City relayed last August, the Priceonomics Blog looked at why bike theft is so prevalent, even when "it seems as if stealing bikes shouldn’t be a lucrative form of criminal activity." The conclusion? Bike thieves are rarely caught, and even if they are, they rarely face jail time, and that's what draws them to the business.

A 2007 estimate of SF bike theft put the citywide number at 2,000 to 3,000 bikes per year. In the Mission, an average of 60 bikes are stolen every month, officers said at a workshop on bike theft prevention held by the SFPD last week, according to SF Weekly.

The SF Bicycle Coalition says its polls show that rampant bike theft is one of the biggest barriers to bicycling in the city. But historically, law enforcement hasn't given the issue serious attention. SFPD Sergeant Joe McCloskey told Outside Online writer Patrick Symmes last January that bike theft "is just a low priority, to be honest with you.”

But making it a higher priority pays off. When San Francisco police caught Irving Morales-Sanchez in July with 114 stolen bikes in his Silver Terrace home and a storage locker, it helped reverse the growing trend of bike thefts from home garages, according to SFPD's Ingleside Station captain.

By charging Morales with 20 felonies, District Attorney George Gascón sent a message to thieves. "This individual was a big seller of stolen bicycles and fueling thieves to steal bicycles for a quick buck," he said when announcing the charges. “By prosecuting the defendant we are dealing a blow to the marketplace of stolen bicycles.”

Living in San Francisco, it's all too common to have your bike stolen or to know someone who's lost a bike to theft. If SFPD, BART police, and other law enforcement agencies continue to show that bike theft won't be tolerated, that could change.

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