“As a community, we continue to battle the ongoing issue of bicycle thefts in our area,” read an Oct. 21 Facebook post by the Moab City Police Department. Police Chief Bret Edge told the Moab Sun News that the uptick in thefts began two or three months ago, and the department has dedicated extra staff time to address the problem.
“Several of our officers worked significant overtime to conduct surveillance and undercover operations,” he said.
Moab resident Ernestine Largo used her bike to commute to work and get around town until it was stolen from her residence just over a week ago. She’s been using her vehicle since then, but she said she needs to cut back on expenses like gasoline to save money, as she is currently enrolled in a nursing program and working part-time.
Largo reported the theft to the police department, and within a couple of days, her bike had been found ditched in a local park. The department hasn’t yet released her bike, which they told Largo had been stripped of parts like tires and inner tubes.
Police buckle down
Edge reported to the City Council at their Oct. 13 meeting that the police department had arrested four individuals involved in bike thefts and had recovered over 20 stolen bikes. Three of the arrested individuals are from Moab and one is from Blanding.
Officials said that the group was loosely associated, but it remains unclear whether there is a larger organized theft ring or even how many bikes have been stolen in total.
Most of the stolen bikes, Edge said, have been mountain bike models, often taken from hotel parking lots or residences. He said many of the bikes have been valued at “over $1,000, with some in the $7,000 - $8,000 range.”
Edge noted that many of the thefts could be considered felonies due to the dollar amount. Theft of property worth more than $5,000 is considered a second-degree felony under Utah code, and is punishable by up to 15 years in prison or up to $10,000 in fines.
“Penalties vary and are determined by the court system,” explained Edge.
Thefts continue to occur with both residents and visitors victimized, and the department is continuing its investigative work to capture outstanding suspects.
Supply chain interruptions
The thefts overlap with an ongoing international shortage of bicycles and bike parts. According to an Aug. 20 article on Marketplace, a nonprofit news organization focused on economic issues, the coronavirus pandemic shut down factories in Asia that are critical to bike part supply chains. At the same time, the pandemic prompted a surge in interest in cycling, as a socially distant form of transportation and/or recreation. Bike thefts have been up this year in other cities like New York and Denver, according to news sources, adding to the pressure.
Moab local Evan Smiley is a mechanic at Bike Fiend cycling shop and also had been donating his time and skills to restore used bikes to provide at low cost to people who might not otherwise be able to afford them. However, he said he’s had to put that community service project on hold due to a shortage in bike parts.
“I can’t get any of the parts I need, unfortunately, to fix them,” Smiley said of the defunct bikes, specifying tubes and tires as particularly hard to obtain.
The clogs in the bike industry might be another incentive for bike owners to take extra precautions with their rides.
Edge advises Moab residents and visitors to lock their bikes with u-bolt style locks or hardened steel chain locks, “as both require power tools to defeat.”
He also recommends storing bikes inside, or if that’s not an option, installing motion-activated lights or security cameras to deter thieves. If bikes are left in hotel parking lots, they should be locked to racks, the vehicle racks should be locked to vehicles, and cars should be parked in a well-lit area close to a wall, bushes, or some other obstruction to make them less accessible to potential thieves.
The police department has also promoted an online bicycle registration database called Project 529. The nonprofit registry tracks bike information and connects cyclists, bike shops, communities, and law enforcement entities to prevent theft and recover stolen bikes.
“Project 529 moving forward will be heavily utilized by the Moab City Police Department in tracking, and documenting bicycles stolen in our area,” read the Oct. 21 MPD Facebook post. Bike owners can register at project529.com.
Largo is still waiting for the police department to let her know when she can pick up her bike. If it is too damaged to use, she’ll still have a problem.
“I don’t have the money to fix it back up,” she said.