SF bike registry helps man retrieve stolen wheels, but it wasn’t easy 

click to enlarge Caltrain
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • Bikes are locked up at the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets.
Six months and nearly 4,000 participants in, the SAFE Bikes voluntary registry in San Francisco has helped at least one man get his bike back after it was stolen.

And the tale of how the San Mateo resident retrieved his wheels shows how effective the free registry can be at reuniting bikes with their rightful owners, but also how the program is still working out some kinks.

Aaron Clayton-Dunn, 23, who bikes regularly in The City on weekends, recently left his new $800 Specialized brand bicycle at the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets. He secured everything—the frame, front wheel and seat -- but when he returned the next evening it was gone.

Clayton-Dunn had registered the bike’s serial number on SAFE Bikes, which launched in February.

Program manager Morgan St. Clair – who also works as a public safety specialist for the nonprofit Safety Awareness For Everyone, which partners with the San Francisco Police Department – advised Clayton-Dunn on the next steps.

Clayton-Dunn announced the theft on Twitter and bookmarked Craigslist pages for bikes in San Francisco from $400 to $900, along with Specialized bikes in the Bay Area. The latter yielded a listing several days later that he identified as his bike. It was being sold for $480 cash by someone in Santa Cruz who provided a phone number.

Following St. Clair’s instructions, Clayton-Dunn called the Craigslist seller to inquire about the bike and offered to pay more if the seller could meet him San Mateo, since he does not own a car. The seller refused. Clayton-Dunn then agreed to meet the seller in Santa Cruz and received the seller’s address via text.

St. Clair could not persuade San Francisco police to attempt to retrieve it in Santa Cruz, but Clayton-Dunn was able to contact police there. Sheriff's Deputy Dee Baldwin, who had dealt with the seller in similar incidents, determined through the serial number listed with the SAFE Bikes registry that it was in fact Clayton-Dunn’s bike.

Clayton-Dunn was reunited with his bike.

“It’s great to see that the SAFE voluntary registration is working as it was designed,” said Kristin Smith, a San Francisco Bicycle Coalition spokeswoman.

St. Clair was thrilled to hear the registry assisted police in recovering Clayton-Dunn’s bike, but said that stolen bikes being sold on Craigslist are a major problem. SAFE Bikes has partnered with Project 529 out of Portland, Ore. on a petition to demand that Craigslist and eBay require serial numbers for bike listings, which would help deter thefts and boost recovery rates.

Bike thefts this year on the streets of San Francisco through Aug. 4 total around 361, down from 458 during the same period last year, said Officer Matt Friedman, who is the department’s point man on bike thefts and runs the police bike theft Twitter account. He said the dip is at least partially due to SAFE Bikes and police efforts.

“If we keep on that path, then we’re looking at probably a 25 to 30 percent drop,” Friedman said. “That’s pretty good; I’ll take it.”

The registry’s effectiveness since it launched is “hard to measure because we’re doing so many educational efforts – Sunday Streets, a lot of outreach events,” St. Clair said.

Clayton-Dunn did have a successful experience with the bike registry, but he said it was not easy.

“I probably made 25 phone calls that day,” he said, emphasizing that Baldwin’s efforts were the real turning point in retrieving the bike. “[Baldwin] … just went above and beyond.”

As for the registry, St. Clair said her goal is to have 15,000 bikes registered by the end of the year. She’s getting help from police officers such as William Palladino, who has been recruiting bicyclists on Market Street between Sixth and Seventh streets by handing out registration stickers.

“People found out we were handing them out and they went like hot cakes,” Palladino said. “We passed out a couple thousand already.”

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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