More than 4,000 bicycles, valued at $4.6 million, were stolen or targeted last year in The City, a new report estimates, and officials are hoping that launching a bike registry and other efforts will slow the epidemic.
As bicycling continues to attract more enthusiasts, bicycle thefts also keep rising. New analyses released Thursday say that The City could reduce thefts by launching a bike registry program, improving police enforcement and increasing bike parking.
One challenge is reuniting owners with recovered stolen bikes.
"The issue of establishing proof of ownership is a continuing vexing problem for recovering bikes," said Fred Brousseau, an analyst with the Budget and Legislative Analyst's Office who drafted the report. "If you don't have some form of identification or receipt showing ownership, there will be a problem in getting your bike back."
Last year, the Police Department seized 864 stolen bikes, but only 142, or about 16 percent, were returned to owners. Police ended up donating more than 300 unclaimed bicycles to nonprofits and churches last year.
The solution, officials say, is a bike registry program.
The nonprofit San Francisco Safe plans to launch a voluntary, no-fee program only viewable by police within months, funded by $75,000 from The City.
Last year there were 817 reported actual or attempted bicycle thefts. However, using U.S. Department of Justice data on under-reported crimes, the report estimated that 4,085 actual or attempted thefts occurred.
Police officials, who have faced criticism about not taking bicycle thefts more seriously, said they are committed to improving how they handle such incidents and they support the registry program.
The department could not immediately provide data on the number of bike theft arrests, and the District Attorney's Office said it does not track such cases.
"Bike theft is a big concern for the Police Department," said John Loftus, the Police Department's deputy chief of operations. "This is obviously a serious crime because it affects so many people."
The report found that the department lacked a standard, uniform approach in handling bike thefts.
Loftus said police will establish a bike theft working group with San Francisco Safe and craft a standard operating procedure.
San Francisco Safe intends to manage the registry database.
"That's the first step towards a citywide effort to keep bikes a lot safer here in San Francisco," Loftus said.
The report recommended a dedicated bike theft unit of five full-time officers, for about $700,000 in total wage costs. Loftus said that seems unlikely to happen anytime soon given the lack of existing resources.
Other challenges are the lack of safe and adequate bike parking on streets and elsewhere.
"One of the big gaps though that we found is in the transit stations. That is such a good place to have these types of facilities so people can actually hop on Muni," Brousseau said.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which is in charge of bike infrastructure, is expected to release a bike parking plan to address the deficiency in September.