Project Handlebar – frontline officers recovering stolen bikes

(Stolen bike recovered and returned to owner by Cst. Ryan Cuthbert who works with the OPS D Platoon on the Project Handlebar campaign to return stolen bikes to their respective owners. Photo: Ottawa Police)

The summer of 2020 saw the theft of several bikes here in Stittsville. If the posts on social media are any indication, Stittsville Central is seeing this recurrence again. It seems every day someone is posting that their bike, or son or daughter’s bike has been stolen from a local park and even from front yards. Every year about 1,000 bicycles are stolen city-wide say the Ottawa Police – with Giant, Trek and Norco brands frequently reported stolen. The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) have provided tips on safeguarding your bike that you can find on their website.

Frontline Patrol officers with the OPS have also been hard at work, leveraging 529 Garage to recover stolen bicycles in the city and return them to their happy owners.

Last fall’s Project Hot Wheels saw the recovery of more than 44 bicycles, with an estimated value of $30,000, but that was just the start for Constables Samson Vo, Richard Zulys and Ryan Cuthbert of D Platoon. On top of their regular patrol duties, these officers launched a second campaign this winter, Project Handlebar, that has to date recovered another 72 bikes with a value of about $70,000 – 54 of those bikes already returned to their owners.

“We are really invested in this,” said Cst. Richard Zulys “we often chip away at recovering these bikes when we are not out on active calls.” The officers use 529 Garage, a bicycle registration app, along with other investigative tools to help identify stolen bicycles. They credit the app with making it easier and faster to get them back to their owners if they have already registered with the program. “That’s important, you need to register ahead of time in order for the app to help us help you,” said Cst. Samson Vo

529 Garage is a bicycle registration app, introduced in 2019 in partnership with the OPS, Bike Ottawa and Safer Roads Ottawa. The app is easy to use, you simply download it to your smartphone and take a few photos of your bike and register your serial number.

For more information on the app and how to complete registration, please visit www.ottawapolice.ca/endbiktheft

The trio, with the help of Sergeant Evan Hung, are working on further developing new policies that will help create efficiencies in bike theft response. One of those ideas includes a plan to set aside storage space at Elgin Station to provide easier access for residents recovering their bikes. “We identified that there are barriers to successfully returning bikes to some owners,” said Cst. Ryan Cuthbert. “Not everyone can get to our Swansea Crescent location, so we wanted to do something to make it easier and more effective.” 

These officers are additionally reaching out to other platoons to identify leaders who can help train their fellow officers on bike theft recovery and the 529 Garage app. “We have taken the lessons we learned from Project Hot Wheels and employed them with Project Handlebar,” said Cst. Zulys. “It’s helped us to streamline how we are educating other officers.” 

They also credit social media and the active cycling community in Ottawa for helping them to recover stolen bicycles. Facebook groups like Stolen Bikes Ottawa often provide valuable tips that our officers use to investigate and follow up. Most bike thefts in the city often involve repeat offenders, and sharing information about these people help police network, identify and recover more stolen bikes.

Some bicycles are a significant financial investment, so it’s important that you protect your property and register with 529 Garage,” added Cst. Zulys. Pre-registering with 529 Garage also helps police establish a chain of ownership, which can assist officers in charging individuals with those crimes. 

For those reluctant to press charges, we can simply take a statement (affidavit) and a photograph of the bicycle that can be presented in court, without you even having to attend,” concluded Cst. Vo. “We want to encourage you to follow through on filing a report so we can charge people engaged with stealing bicycles, who are typically repeat offenders.”

You can report a theft online at www.ottawapolice.ca/onlinereporting, or you can leave an anonymous tip with Crime Stoppers by dialing 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).


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