STATE COLLEGE — Bicycle gone missing? The first place to turn might not be where you’d expect.
State College police are taking to Twitter to reunite missing and stolen bikes with their owners. An assortment of recovered bikes already are popping up on the department’s Twitter feed, @ReclaimYourBike.
“RECOVERED: Blue Huffy Adversary 18-speed bike,” one Tweet reads. “E-mail ReclaimYourBike@statecollegepa.us or call at 814-234-7150 to reclaim.”
The program shows some outside-of-the-box thinking to help address what has become a common problem in State College.
An average of 135 bikes have gone missing or been abandoned annually during the past 10 years, police data show. Almost 80 of those, on average, are stolen and never found.
Many of the rest end up in borough storage, where they can wait for months for an owner to come forward. Often, no one does. The bicycles then are sold at auction so the borough storage area does not become overwhelmed.
Sgt. Todd Scholton, who brought the program to State College, said he was inspired by a similar initiative being used by Seattle police.
“It’s a similar community, a biking community,” Scholton said.
With a large biking community comes thefts.
Kelly Aston, State College community relations officer, said the department sees numerous instances of bicycles being stolen and then ditched. It leads police to speculate that students or residents are taking bikes, riding them home or to other destinations, and simply tossing them aside.
Police also enforce borough code and remove bikes that have been left too long on racks or in front of businesses or apartment buildings. A number of those bikes, Aston said, have been abandoned by students leaving for the semester, but others may have been misplaced.
“A lot of the bikes we recover get returned, but there are a lot that also end up going to auction because we can’t find an owner,” Scholton said.
Finding owners the old-fashioned way takes more police work, especially if the bikes aren’t registered. Scolton said that the new program should cut down on manpower while also saving owners time and making it more convenient to claim stolen or missing bikes.
But even with the new system, police said that registering your bicycle is still the best way to ensure it is returned.
“The best way to help us get your bike returned to you is to have the bike registered before it is lost,” police sad in a statement. “Normally we would use the registration information to get the bike returned to the owner, usually the same day we take it in.”
If you’ve lost a non-registered bike, you can still claim it by providing a serial number, a sales receipt, a picture or a vivid description, police said.
Bicycle registration forms can be picked-up at the State College Police Department or the Penn State Parking Office. Registration also can be completed online at Penn State’s website.
Police said they hope students and residents who report stolen or missing bikes will follow the Twitter feed and claim the vehicles before they end up hanging from a wall in long-term storage.
“We'll see what happens,” Scholton said. “For it to work, people missing these bikes have to follow us.”
Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.