Luke Sabala had good intentions when he locked his bicycle to a rack on the hitch of his car. He decided to drive from his home in Castle Rock to his office in the Denver Tech Center, and later ride his bike around Denver to meet up with a friend. But that afternoon, his bike was gone.
“I got [to the office] about nine o’clock that morning, worked until about four o’clock. I was outside at 3 p.m. talking on the phone and it was there. I came out literally an hour later and the cables were cut with cable cutters and the bike was gone,” Sabala says.
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This happened in August, and Sabala has yet to find his bike. According to the Denver Police Department (DPD), Sabala is not alone. As of October 5, more than 3,200 bicycles have been reported stolen this year. In all of 2019, a total of 3,283 bikes were reported stolen.
According to data from DPD, bike theft from January to the end of September is up 22 percent year-over-year. Jay Casillas, public information officer for DPD, says the department noticed an increase in bike thefts in March, April, and May, around the time COVID-19 restrictions went into effect in Colorado. This is also when the Colorado bike market went into a frenzy.
The number of reported thefts has yet to slow, Casillas says. Last month, 444 bikes were reported stolen compared to 354 in September 2019. But these numbers only account for people who report their bike stolen. Sabala, for example, did not. “I’ve had that bike forever. I didn’t have a serial number from the bottom of the bike. I didn’t have the necessary information to really feel like it was going to be a purposeful contact to the authorities,” Sabala says. “It would definitely have been something, more or less, to make myself feel better. But I knew that it was going to be kind of a lost cause just based off of the lack of information that I had on the bike.”
Sabala, like many others, turned to local Facebook groups. He posted in a local buy, sell, trade group and Dads of Castle Rock. Denver Stolen Bikes, a private Facebook group with 3,300 members, is also a popular page for locals posting about their lost bikes or posting information about for sale bikes that are suspected to be stolen.
Casillas says DPD has a team of officers dedicated to recovering stolen bikes. “We have received some reports of stolen bikes being found in homeless camps or being taken to homeless camp,” Casillas says. “We do see bikes at camps, but most of the time, it’s really hard to tell if they’re stolen or not because a lot of times people don’t have a way to track them back, whether it’s a serial number or anything like that. So, when they do a report, it’s hard for us to return it back to them if they don’t have that serial number.” Only three stolen bikes have been located in homeless camps this year, he says.
DPD recommends bike owners register their bikes through the department’s online portal. This helps the department identify the bike and keeps record of ownership. Casillas says it’s also important to keep your own record by taking a picture of the serial number and a selfie of you and your bike. Another safety measure is to buy a heavy-duty lock that’s hard to cut, such as a U-Lock, and to store your bike inside a locked building when possible.
If you see anything suspicious, including someone trying to break a lock off a bike, call the non-emergency number at 720-913-2000.