Police turn to tech to reunite stolen bikes with their owners

Ottawa police want cyclists to start using more than just a U-lock to prevent bike theft — they want them to use a new app caled 529 Garage.

529 Garage app can alert police, fellow cyclists when a bike is stolen

Ottawa police launched the 529 Garage program Monday. A tamper-proof sticker helps police match stolen bikes with their rightful owners. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Ottawa police want cyclists to start using more than just a U-lock to prevent bike theft.

Police launched a pilot project Monday to reunite stolen bikes with their rightful owners using a new app.

We have a lot [of stolen bikes], but they're not well identified. Whose are they?- Const. Chuck Benoit

"We have a lot [of stolen bikes], but they're not well identified," said Const. Chuck Benoit. "Whose are they?"

The answer, police hope, lies in "529 Garage."

Most bike owners don't bother to record the serial number engraved in their bike's frame, police say. The new app makes that easier.

Police are handing out tamper-proof stickers with unique ID numbers that owners register with the 529 Garage app. When police recover a stolen bike with one of the stickers, they can use the app to search for the bike's owner.

The program, in partnership with Bike Ottawa and the Ottawa Safety Council, will start with 600 stickers, and hopes to expand from there.

They'll be handing the stickers near the western end of Corktown Footbridge on May 13, between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., and at CycloFusion at Remic Rapids on May 19.

A new app might help you find your stolen bike

2 years ago
Ottawa police are encouraging cyclists to add photos and their bike's serial number to a new app with the goal of recovering the bike if it's ever stolen. 0:38

'Neighbourhood watch for bikes'

Rodd Heino, with the Ottawa Safety Council, had his favourite bike stolen in 2017.

He tried to get the word out on social media, but he never saw the bike again. It might have been a different story if this app was around then, he said.

"I think it could have spread the message a little quicker," he said.

That's because when a registered bike is reported stolen on the app, it also alerts every app user in the area to be on the lookout — a sort of "neighbourhood watch for bikes," as several users described it.

Rodd Heino, with the Ottawa Safety Council, had his favourite bike stolen in 2017. (Jessa Runciman/CBC)

Ottawa police also get a notification.

Bikes registered with 529 Garage can even be located if they turn up in other cities, according to Bike Ottawa's Heather Shearer.

The app has shown some success in reducing theft in other cities, program organizers claim: Vancouver has seen a 30 per cent drop in bike theft after launching 529 Garage in 2014. 

With files from the CBC's Jessa Runsiman


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