Yes, some of the bikes at police auctions are stolen – here’s why they’re for sale

Photo by Kingston Police.

It’s not uncommon for different police agencies to hold auctions, and it’s incredibly common for those auctions to include a large number of bicycles.

Recently, here in Kingston, social media posts regarding an upcoming police auction have resulted in a number of negative comments, many of which posed questions about bikes such as ‘why aren’t the stolen bikes returned to their rightful owners?’ In an attempt to bring about some clarity as to where the items at a police auction come from, we at Kingstonist spoke with Const. Cameron Mack, media relations officer for Kingston Police.

So are the bikes that end up at police auctions there as a result of theft? Some of them are, but the fact those bikes haven’t been returned to their owners isn’t for a lack of trying, Mack explained.

Generally, the bikes that end up at auction come into police possession one of two ways, Mack said. The first way is if a resident calls in an abandoned bike, or a police officer finds an abandoned bike in public. Those bikes are what is referred to as ‘found property,’ Mack said. The second way is if a bike is seized as stolen property during an arrest. In both situations, the bikes don’t just go to auction once they are in police possession. First, police attempt to find an owner of the bike, or of any property that ends up in their possession, Mack explained.

“We won’t take abandoned property and throw it [into storage], we try to identify the owner, right? So we’ll do a search to see if it’s been reported lost or stolen, that sort of thing, and if we have no luck with that, then that’s when it would go on auction,” he said.

And that’s when police find they’re at a loss to find the owner.

“I think that’s due to [the fact] a lot of people don’t report their property, and specifically a bike, lost or stolen. They figure ‘Oh, they’ll never find it,’” Mack said.

“But if we do find it, we have no way to verify who owns it.”

When we at Kingstonist spoke earlier this year, Frontenac Cycle Sport owner Graeme Healey said he suspects the same thing: people don’t report their bikes or bike parts stolen because they don’t think it will ever amount to anything. That’s why Healey started cataloguing bike and bike part thefts so he can demonstrate to police and city council just how pressing the issue of bike theft is in Kingston.

But Mack pointed out a way bike owners can ensure their property will be returned if it ever ends up in possession of police.

“Something we would like to get across to people is: if you have a bike and it’s important to you or it’s worth anything, copy down the serial number, get the full make, model, description, and a picture, and then you can even register it with our online bike registration program, too,” Mack said.

“There is an online bicycle registration on our website… even if a person doesn’t think that it’s worth it, it still could help us with convicting and charging someone in possession of stolen bikes.”

Mack reiterated those reasons for why people should report stolen bikes or bike parts – not only can the police return the property if it is found, but they can also lay charges against someone found to be in possession or the property. Furthermore, reporting the thefts helps police to see the bigger picture when it comes to bike thefts.

“If you register your bike, and you have the information and report it as stolen or lost, there’s a potential chance that it could be recovered some day,” said Mack.

“And, at the bare minimum, it may assist us in arresting and convicting someone for dealing with stolen bicycles or stolen parts.”

Mack said the same thing goes for suspected bike theft rings or ‘chop shops,’ which are places where bike thieves will collect bikes and parts, often to put together differently so that the bikes are harder to identify.

“It just adds to our database, it adds to our information, and it assists us in locating and arresting people and charging people that are involved in that sort of thing,” he said.

“Then we know that there’s activity in this area, that there’s been a lot of bicycle thefts or bicycle parts in a specific area, certain times… we might have an idea of a person in an area that we suspect is doing it, but if we’re not getting reports coming in saying that thefts are happening, then it kind of really limits us and slows down the investigation,” Mack continued.

“But if we have a suspect in mind that we’re looking at and all of a sudden these reports start coming in, then we can go ‘ok, he’s active, he’s up to it, let’s start watching him.’ It really does make a difference.”

As for the other specifics of police auctions, Mack explained that a bike or any other item that comes into police possession won’t end up at auction the next day. Kingston Police are given the authority to auction items in their possession by the Police Service Act, which dictates that police must hold onto items and attempt to find owners for 90 days. And while the only exception to that rule is for bicycles (which police are allowed to auction after 30 days), it’s extremely unlikely a bike would end up at auction 30 days after it arrives at police headquarters, Mack said.

“We only have a couple of auctions a year,” he said, noting that the turnaround time for filing paperwork and looking for rightful owners would likely take those 30 days anyway.

And where does the money that is raised through police auctions go? Well, that’s up to the Chief of Police and the Police Services Board to decide.

“Those proceeds can be used for any purpose really that the chief of police and the police service board consider in the public’s interest,” Mack said, noting that in the past, funds have gone to charitable causes like the Special Olympics Law Enforcement Torch Run.

“It might be for buying equipment, it might be for something other than the police services. It’s whatever they deem is in the public interest.”

The next Kingston Police auction will be held on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in the Sail Room at Portsmouth Olympic Harbour (53 Yonge Street). Doors open at 8 a.m. to allow for time to view the items for sale and to register for the auction. Bidding begins at 10 a.m.

Dave Snider Auction Service will be conducting the event, and unclaimed goods to be auctioned off include: over 50 bicycles, jewellery, tools, and much more. For more information go to: www.daveasniderauctionservice.ca/auctionad.html.

For more information on the Kingston Police bicycle registration program ‘Bike Watch,’ go to www.kingstonpolice.ca/news-community/community-programs/bike-watch/.

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