Minneapolis police to auction off 100 recovered bikes

Police auction off recovered property to make space and fill budget gaps.

Ian Larson

When buying a new bicycle, few people ever consider that the best seller might not be a bike shop or online retailer âÄî it could be the local police department. Every year the Minneapolis Police Department auctions off more recovered electronics and valuables, and many of them are bargains, said Property and Evidence Supervisor Kerstin Hammarberg. Police are hosting their seventh and final bicycle auction of the year on Thursday, and up for the bidding are more than 100 recovered bikes. Bolstered by the biannual jewelry auction, this yearâÄôs auctions will net the department nearly $100,000, enough to pay the salaries of two full-time Minneapolis police officers. All the items come into the hands of Minneapolis police as evidence, and many of them sit for years on shelves in city hall or in one of two warehouses owned by the department before theyâÄôre either claimed by owners or auctioned by police. Because the items are considered evidence, they are simply cataloged and stored, and police make no effort to assess their condition or make any repairs because any item could be referenced during an investigation or a trial. If a damaged phone were inventoried âÄúand itâÄôs a domestic assault, the officer takes the telephone with the broken telephone cord to court, we donâÄôt want to fix the cord before it goes to court because thatâÄôs the evidence showing that it was broken,âÄù Hammarberg said. Police try to identify any owners by searching interdepartmental databases, but oftentimes serial numbers are scratched off, or owners simply canâÄôt be found, she said. Though many items that are evidence in crimes sit on warehouse shelves for years, recovered property that isnâÄôt found to have a connection to a crime can make it to MPDâÄôs auction block in as little as six months, Hammarberg said. Many of these items find their way into police hands when theyâÄôre dumped by owners in alleyways and are reported by neighbors as potential evidence in a crime. âÄúBut now we have this piece of recovered property, found property, and we canâÄôt tie it to you âĦ and the neighbor has no idea who it belongs to, they just think somebody got burglarized,âÄù Hammarberg said. âÄúIf [itâÄôs] in good condition, we would sell [it] at auction.âÄù When police recover clothing or other items in shoplifting cases, the victimized business has often been compensated for the merchandise by an insurance company, so police turn the items over at auction. Though the only lots at ThursdayâÄôs sale are bicycles, Minneapolis police auction anything in their possession except for firearms and narcotics, which are destroyed after the case is closed, Hammarberg said. While law requires that general property sit in police warehouses for a minimum of six months before going to auction, a 20-year-old Minneapolis city ordinance allows police to sell bicycles after only 30 days. Police usually tag bicycles that are chained to trees and lampposts downtown; if the bicycles havenâÄôt moved after 24 hours, police impound them. Minneapolis police impound and sell nearly 800 bicycles at auction in any given year âÄî at an average price of $42, Hammarberg said While some of the bicycles might need minor adjustments or repairs, everything is serviceable, âÄúbut you get what you pay for,âÄù Hammarberg said. Though the first bicycle sold at the most recent auction fetched more than $400, the buyer âÄúwould easily have bought it for more than double that new,âÄù Hammarberg said. âÄúIf you know what youâÄôre looking for, if you know whatâÄôs there, it can be a great deal.âÄù University of Minnesota Police donâÄôt auction off recovered property because they volume of recovered goods is so marginal, said Deputy Chief Chuck Miner of University police. Miner said that University police instead donate any valuable property, especially bicycles, to Goodwill or local family housing cooperatives. Viewing for the Minneapolis police bicycles auction will begin at 4 p.m. at 6024 Harriet Ave. South on Thursday, Oct. 29, and bidding will begin at 6 p.m. that night.