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How to protect your bike (and get it back if it's been stolen)

The "Flip, Snap, Selfie" method encourages people to take a photo of their bike's serial number (and themselves) to help police get stolen bikes back to their owner.

DENVER — A method of bicycle identification can help ensure Denver Police are able to return a recovered bike to its proper owner after it's been stolen.

The "Flip, Snap, Selfie" method works by having people find the serial number on the bottom of the frame of the bike, use a phone to take a photo and then take a selfie with the bike in the background. This creates a visual record to prove bicycle ownership.

More than 1,600 bicycle thefts were reported in Denver in the six months ending in June, an 18% increase in thefts over the same period last year, according to the Denver Police Department (DPD).

"Fortunately during that time, around the end of May, we did get an arrest of people that actually go out and look for these bikes," said DPD spokesperson Jay Casillas. "We did see a decrease in theft after that, and hopefully we can continue getting more decreases."

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DPD said even if officers recover a bike, if it's not registered, they have no way of returning it. DPD said the return rate is 6% due to the lack of registration.

Casillas said the thieves typically try to sell the stolen bikes on the street or sometimes try to pawn them. If that proves difficult, they will often put them on buy-sell websites like Craigslist or OfferUp.

Thieves are not geniuses, he said, so they often lead the cops right back to them when they list the bikes online.

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Casillas added that a bike lock offers some defense as well.

"I think it's important to use locks," he said. "It's a deterrent, and if they really want to get to the bike, it's going to be a lot harder for them to steal. A cheaper bike lock can deter theft a little bit, but sometimes they are also easier to cut. It's better to invest a little bit more in a lock. Using those U-shaped locks that are a little bit heavier duty and a little bit harder to get through is a good idea. It can make it harder for somebody to get your bike for sure."

And, Casillas said, registering a bike with the "Flip, Snap, Selfie" program is an easy method offering instant recovery to owners if a stolen bike is found. People can also register bikes at denvergov.org/police for additional insurance. 

Credit: Denver Police Department

Bikeindex.org, a free, non-profit database, also claims to have helped recover almost $11 million dollars worth of stolen bikes. In the current climate, Casillas said, registering your bike is your best bet for recovery.