Vol. 80, No. 1Best practice

A police officer putting a sticker on a bike.

Getting a grip on bike theft

Police, online app aim to reduce losses

Cpl. Kevin Krygier attaches a tamper-proof sticker to a bicycle at a 529 Garage registration event in Richmond, B.C. Credit: Courtesy of Cpl. Kevin Krygier, RCMP


For the first time in a decade, bike theft in Richmond, B.C., is on the decline.

The 30-per cent reduction comes after Richmond RCMP partnered with an online bicycle registration and recovery service called 529 Garage.

"If we're having that significant a reduction in one year, you have to attribute it to something," says RCMP Cpl. Kevin Krygier, the non-commissioned officer in charge of crime prevention in Richmond. "I think it's fair to attribute it to 529 Garage because we were out working incredibly hard, hosting events across the city to register as many cyclists as we could and educating them about how to protect and secure their bikes to prevent theft."

Report and recover

Bicycles are typically one of the only modes of transportation that people don't register or insure, says Krygier. And stolen bikes are one of the most underreported crimes. When they are reported, bike theft victims often don't have the serial number or adequate detail to identify the bike successfully.

"Chances are when a bad guy steals a bike, it's untraceable," says Krygier. "When they feel like that bike is going to be reported stolen, they dump it and steal another one."

Bike theft is a major issue for police, says Cst. Robynn Watts, Surrey RCMP, who brought 529 Garage to Surrey, B.C., to tackle the problem.

"Criminals are stealing bikes to commit secondary crimes, like break and enters and theft from vehicles," says Watts. "We were finding discarded bikes all the time and had no way of returning them to their owners."

The partnership between police and the service hopes to change that. It's a simple but comprehensive way to register, report and recover stolen bikes across North America.

Anyone can sign up to the service either online or with a mobile application. They can upload as much information about their bike as they want, including the serial number, make, model, colour and even photos.

Owners can also protect their bike with a 529 Shield, a tamper-proof sticker with a unique seven-digit code they can enter in the system.

"If the crooks see the shield, they know the bike is registered," says Cst. Rob Brunt, Vancouver Police Department (VPD). "These shields are really tough to pick off. They come off in a million pieces, kind of like nail polish."

Should a registered bike go missing, the user can issue a notification that gets sent to all 529 Garage users in the area alerting them to be on the lookout.

United front

529 Garage harnesses the power of the community to protect and recover stolen bikes.

"We call it the community effect," says J Allard, the developer behind the registry. "529 Garage unites everyone involved — law enforcement, universities, bike shops, advocates and cyclists — through a single platform to fight bike theft as a unified force."

Allard developed 529 Garage after his own bike was stolen out of a secure parking garage in Seattle, Wash. He reached out to his mountain bike community for help. Thirty days later, he got a tip his bike was for sale on online. He was able to get it back with the help of the Seattle Police Department.

The project was first brought to Canada when Brunt teamed up with Allard.

Brunt was searching for a solution to the bike theft issue in Vancouver, B.C. He wanted to adopt and adapt an existing program for VPD, but couldn't find anything.

"I was beginning to think I was going to have to invent the wheel," says Brunt. "I'm a beat cop, not a computer programmer, so I was so happy when I heard about 529 Garage."

Since the VPD and RCMP in Richmond and Surrey detachments partnered with Project 529 two years ago, it has spread across the province. About 600,000 bikes are now registered on the database across North America, 60,000 of which are in British Columbia.

In Vancouver, Brunt had hoped to have 10,000 bikes registered by the end of three years. But after just two years, he says they've already registered 20,000 and bike theft is down by 30 per cent.

In Richmond, Krygier developed police officer and volunteer training on how to register and use the website. After several registration blitzes and initiatives, they have more than 2,000 bikes registered and are reaping the benefits of the community-driven system.

"We've recovered stolen bikes using it and we can return bikes frequently to their owners because of it," says Krygier. "It works."

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