Internet Registry May Reduce Bike Theft

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In an effort to combat bicycle theft in Berkeley and around the country, a new local Internet company has begun offering an online bike registry service.

The service, offered by the Berkeley-based National Bike Registry, aims to aid recovery of stolen bicycles through a system where owners register their bicycle information via the Internet or by phone.

After registering, owners receive a certificate of registration and permanent decals to affix to their bike. The decals and the bike's serial number are intended to help law enforcement officials track down a stolen bike's rightful owner if the bike is recovered.

The president of the company that owns the registry said that while registration is not actually legal proof of ownership, it can help law enforcement officials decide who a bike's rightful owner is.

"Registration is only an indicia," said Eddie Orton. "But if the bike is already registered, then we have a procedure to clarify the situation. Bicycle theft is a 35 seconds or less crime. Thieves sell (bikes) as their own for a $75 to $100 profit."

Orton said most recovered bikes are never returned to their owners.

Law enforcement officials will have free access to the database to search for owners of stolen bikes, said Rob Kaplan, a spokesperson for the registry.

"No matter where the bike is recovered, the Internet brings it together (with its owner) and it's secure," Kaplan said. "It's like cheap insurance - inexpensive, easy and it works."

But Jason Meggs, a local bicycle activist, said while he supports a central database system, he does not think it will be effective in recovering all stolen bikes.

"Some bikes go out of the country or they show up in flea markets," he said.

Registry officials said their mission is to work closely with law enforcement agencies and the bicycle industry to help return stolen bikes to their owners, prevent their theft and alleviate the fear of theft that sometimes hinders bicycle sales.

A 1997 FBI report revealed that over 1 million bicycles are stolen every year in the United States, and in a recent issue of Bicycling Magazine, the Bay Area was named the third worst region in the United States for bike theft. New York and Phoenix were ranked first and second.

According to the National Study of Bicycle Thefts on College Campuses, one out of every five college students has his or her bike stolen over a four year period.

UC police Capt. Bill Cooper said he believes bikes in the area immediately surrounding campus are more likely to be stolen simply because they are so numerous.

By June of this year, 5,000 police departments nationwide are expected to be familiar with and use the system, Kaplan said.

"We had great reactions from police because this benefits everyone," he said.


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