Fewer than 10% of stolen bicycles in East Baton Rouge Parish were returned to their rightful owners last year. In part, that’s because fewer owners are registering their bikes with the city-parish, even though it’s required by law.
Unregistered stolen bikes recovered by the police are almost impossible to return to their owners. One reason for declining registrations, says the Baton Rouge Police Department, is because the existing system is antiquated and burdensome.
But an effort is underway to change that.
BRPD, along with Metro Council members Matt Watson and LaMont Cole, proposed an item at the last council meeting to repeal the bicycle registration requirement. Doing so, says Watson, will allow BRPD to pursue a new online registration system, which is free and voluntary for bike owners.
The proposal was deferred for 60 days.
Currently, bike owners are required to register their vehicles with their local police department and purchase a $5 license tag, which is essentially an identification sticker.
But registrations have been on the decline over the past decade. Bike tag fees last year generated $22,945, down 47% since 2009, Watson says. Meanwhile, of the 720 bikes that were stolen last year in Baton Rouge, only 65 were returned, according to BRDP stats presented at the Sept. 12 council meeting.
Should the registration ordinance be removed, BRPD plans to pursue a partnership with an online bike registration company called 529 Garage, which allows for free bike registration through an app.
Law enforcement agencies across the parish can access the registration database for an annual fee of $5,000, which would help police return stolen bikes.
BRPD Sgt. Mike Gauthier spearheaded the idea. He took over bike registration for the department three years ago and started looking into ways to refine the system.
“It’s a very dated system—the ordinance is from 1951 and the database is from the ‘80s,” Gauthier says. “I looked into how other departments around the country did it and found that, if they even offered registration, it was free.”
Gauthier introduced the online registration idea to council members, who he says loved it. 529 Garage’s registration app is more efficient than the system in place, he adds, which could encourage more people to use it. And that means more bikes returned to their owners.
“We want to go from an enforcement tool to a bike recovery tool,” Gauthier says. “It would be a great community resource for us.”