When Const. Sean Millard looked at the stats pertaining to bike thefts in Victoria during the last few years, he couldn’t help but notice there was a growing trend.
In 2013, there were 514 bikes reported stolen, 70 of which were recovered by police. The following year that number jumped to 645 bikes, of which 168 were recovered. The crime was a daily occurrence.
Given the staggering cost of some of the bikes being swiped, Millard recognized police needed to get a handle on the problem as the city encourages more people to ditch their vehicles for two wheels. So in July 2015, he implemented the Victoria police bike registry. A year later, Millard has seen considerable success.
Last year, 733 bikes were stolen. Of those, police managed to return 255 to their rightful owners.
“That is an incredible number,” said Millard, noting police have had about 1,000 bikes registered throughout the region since the program began. “People are aware the bike registry is out there and we’re having more success with seizing bikes. Members are playing a huge role in taking an interest in recovering bikes.”
The bike registry is simple. Cyclists fill out a form with their contact information, bike serial number and description, making it easier for officers to establish that it’s stolen when checking a person riding it without permission.
According to Millard, a group of about 10 people in the city are prolific bike thieves known to police. Typically the bikes are swiped from a porch or back yard, but some thieves cut the locks of bikes parked downtown. The hot spots for thefts include the area around Value Village, Yates and Broad streets.
Sometimes the bikes are dismantled and modified in an effort to throw off police. Many of them have been recovered from tent city on the lawns of the Victoria courthouse, along with homeless shelters such as Rock Bay Landing. The thieves, said Millard, are often oblivious to the impacts of their crime.
“We arrested one guy and took him to cells and said just so you know, this bike belonged to this kid.”
“It was the only thing he owned,” said Millard, adding the 16-year-old victim left work to find his bike was gone, leaving him devastated.
“The guy (in cells) almost started crying. He had no idea (the impact of his crime).”
The courts have also helped police get a handle on the thefts. When police started targeting the prolific offenders, they were sent to court and released on conditions to not have a bike or bike parts period. That’s when Millard saw the number of bike thefts drop dramatically.
“They were constantly stopped (by police) and realized that it isn’t going to be easy stealing another one,” Millard said.
Millard admits bike thefts are still an ongoing problem, even though the numbers are coming down. So far this year 358 bikes have been stolen. At the same time last year, there were 391. About 175 bikes are still waiting to be reunited with their rightful owners and are held for 90 days before they go to auction.
A police officer for 23 years, Millard has had plenty of opportunities to return stolen property to their rightful owners, but those who’ve lost their bikes are especially appreciative. Around 11 p.m. on Canada Day, a man told Millard having his bike returned meant the world to him.
“I have never had the heart felt thanks that you get from people when you return a bike,” said Millard, who continues to encourage everyone to register their bike. “It really is making a difference.”
Bike registration needs to be done in person at either the VicPD headquarters or the Esquimalt Public Safety Building.
For more information visit vicpd.ca.