Bike Index is built on the idea that community is the best tool a theft victim has for getting their stolen bike back. We leverage the free tools social media provides us to connect with others and communicate about stolen bikes. There are a number of ways you can do the same to diminish bike theft in your own community.
One of the best ways is to create a stolen bikes Facebook group.
We talked with Stolen Bike Facebook superstars Alexander Fleming of Stolen Bikes NOLA, Brent Thorvaldson of Stolen Bikes Edmonton (Canada!), and Kuan Teoh of Twin Cities Stolen Bikes about how they've managed to build wildly successful communities that use Facebook to recover thousands of stolen bicycles for their rightful owners.
Here are their tips:
"First you have to keep the group on target. You have to delete distractions like arguments," says Fleming. Keep the focus on recovering stolen bicycles. Ban users who become threatening or violent, and shut down political discussions. The point of the page should be to work together as a community, not to argue. Additionally, don't allow people to buy and sell bikes on your site, as it glums up the page and distracts from its purpose.
"Thieves come in all types," says Stolen Bikes NOLA admin, Heidi. Profiling doesn't help anyone. If a user posts a picture of a potentially stolen bike with its potential thief, keep the attention on the bike. "Profiling the person rarely works because the bicycle may or may not be there with the person," says Teoh. "We do not target people, we target bicycles, the primary reason being safety, then second being that it never works."
If your Facebook page is successful, it's going to attract a lot of attention. The more trusted admins you have to approve posts, respond to messages, and monitor for abuse, the better your site will operate. More people will use your platform to connect with others about stolen bicycles, and your reputation will grow in a positive way.
"For a search to be effective, you need to provide enough information so that your bicycle shows up. Be specific about the make, model, color, and modifications/enhancements you've made beyond what is standard. If you have special pedals, list the type of pedal, if you switched out the saddle for your favorite, list the type of saddle. You can even go so far as to list the scratches and "beausage" you've put on the bicycle," says Teoh. Make sure your members know that the more info they share about the bike, the more likely it is that someone will be able to spot it. Likewise, Fleming encourages users in his group to post pictures of bikes they see in the world, even if they're not 100 percent positive its the right bike. Any information helps.
All three groups strongly urge their Facebook group members to file a police report as part of the process of finding their stolen bike. Your group can go one step further: "Develop a good working relationship with at least a few police liaisons," says Heidi. "Our relationship with local law enforcement is a huge asset to our group as well," says Thorvaldson. "They help to remove the risk to the owners and in return we give the the seller, owner, ad, Bike index registry and any other details we have on the seller. This takes the time consuming part out of it for the officers." Plus, if users add their police report to Bike Index, then we'll alert pawnshops in the area to hold a stolen bike if someone comes in and tries to sell it.
In addition to keeping an eye out locally, encourage your users to register their bikes in Bike Index's national database. The more people keeping eyes out, the better. Stolen Bikes NOLA also has a website. When you register your bike there, they will put out a blast on their social pages, much like what Bike Index does with our regional twitter accounts.
Somewhat related to point #1 is making sure your members are using your page for the right reasons. Stolen Bikes Edmonton and Stolen Bikes NOLA keep their pages private, but Stolen Bikes NOLA has a public facebook page as well. Twin Cities Stolen Bikes remains public. "We need to keep the page public just in case something gets spotted. This also means the group is visible to bad actors and we occasionally get requests from bike thieves to join our group," says Teoh. Quality of members is more important than quantity, says Thorvaldson. "We have roughly 1200 members and have declined pretty close to that many if not more in the 3 years we have been at this."
"Member participation is a huge part of finding and returning bikes. If we’re not actively looking each day bikes change hands right under our noses," says Thorvaldson. He encourages users to search the local Kijiji, Letgo, and Facebook Market Place for suspect ads and bikes they're looking for. Teoh does the same with Offerup and Craigslist. "If you happen to see a bicycle on any of these sites that is "priced to move" so to speak, check it against the list of posted stolen bicycles in the group," Teoh says to his group's users.
Over the years we've seen countless examples of selfless benevolence when it comes to recovering stolen bikes. We've seen people buy a bike, learn it was stolen, and then just give it back to the real owner. We have a whole cohort of people who recover bikes just because they like to recover stolen bikes. And we see people volunteer their time to create and monitor pages that help prevent theft and get stolen bikes back, just because they hate bike theft and want to help others.
SB NOLA alone has recovered 1125 bikes since 2015. Your Stolen Bikes Facebook group can do amazing things for your community as well. Look out for each other and encourage bicycle registration - join or start a group in your area right now!