Police will be able to seize any bikes or bicycle parts from individuals who have five or more bikes displayed on public property, according to legislation that will be considered Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy proposed the chop shop ban to target San Francisco’s ongoing bicycle theft problem.
The bicycle theft problem is concentrated in the Mission District, where police report that 60 percent of the city’s bike thefts occur.
Two San Francisco organizations say the ban does not target the root of the problem.
“This legislation paints all unhoused cyclists as thieves,” said Dayton Andrews, a human rights organizer at the Coalition on Homelessness. Since homeless people often have no place to store their bikes, they can only have them on the street, said Andrews. The proposed legislation will mean homeless people can be targeted by police and their property seized.
Seized property can be retrieved from the SFPD if the person can demonstrate ownership. The ban does not include fines for the people affected, meaning that if homeless people’s bikes are taken they can go get it back without incurring a cost that they cannot pay.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition also opposes the legislation – albeit for different reasons.
“We believe that prevention may be the most resource-effective method of combating bike theft,” wrote Executive Director Brian Wiedenmeier in a letter to the board’s Land Use and Transportation Committee.
Wiedenmeier wrote that targeting chop shops only addresses the “most visible symptom of bicycle theft in our city.” Legislation should focus on the market for stolen bikes, he wrote. The best solution is to prevent bikes from entering the illegal market in the first place.
However, making it harder to sell bicycles on the street may make vendors turn towards other products.
There have been multiple proposed strategies to prevent bikes from being stolen. Some of these, like the citywide bicycle registration program, have shown good results.
There is still a problem with the bike registration method.
“Most people do not register their bikes,” said San Francisco Police Public Information Officer Robert Rueca. Registering bikes would mean police could more easily restore them to owners if stolen. More people registering bikes would also mean that bicycle data would be more accurate.
Another good prevention strategy, said Rueca, is to educate San Francisco bikers on proper bike locking techniques so that bicycles are not so easy to steal.
Wiedenmeier from the Bicycle Coalition also pointed out in his letter that potentially successful prevention strategies haven’t even been tried. Consistent analysis of bicycle theft data, attended bike parking sites and more bike parking corrals are things that could stop bike theft at the source.