Pushed up by an increased number of reported bicycle thefts, Ashland's overall crime rate during the first six months of this year rose 8 percent compared to the first half of 2010, Ashland police said.

Pushed up by an increased number of reported bicycle thefts, Ashland's overall crime rate during the first six months of this year rose 8 percent compared to the first half of 2010, Ashland police said.

The department received 56 reports of stolen bikes from Jan. 1 to June 1 this year, said Ashland Police Chief Terry Holderness, a big jump from last year's 26 reported thefts during the same span.

"That doesn't necessarily mean thefts are up, it might just mean that more people are reporting their bikes stolen," said Holderness. "It might not, of course, so it's probably smart to lock your car if you have a purse in the front seat, or lock your bike up if you're going to leave it somewhere."

He said the campus of Southern Oregon University around student housing accounts for most of the city's bike thefts, and that the downtown area is the second largest contributor. Last year, especially at SOU, Ashland police stepped up its outreach effort of getting people to report stolen bikes, said Holderness, and that may be one reason for the number's sharp increase.

"We'll be keeping a really close eye on the university this year, just in case." said Holderness. "We want to see if we're just looking at an increase in reports or if more bikes are actually being stolen."

Holderness said the department recovers about 50 to 60 stolen bikes per year that it can't trace back to owners, "so, we like people to report them when they get stolen," he said. Owners should be writing down their bike's registration number and serial number, so that if it does get stolen, reported and later recovered, the department has a person to associate the bike with, he said.

Typically about twice a year, the department hosts a bike give away, handing out the unclaimed bikes it recovers. It's a well-advertised and well-attended event when it happens, Holderness said.

During the first six months of last year, Ashland had 285 reported property crimes, a category which bicycle theft falls under, said Holderness. For the first half of 2011, that number was 309. Without this year's 30 additional bike thefts, the city would have actually seen a reduction in property crimes, he said, and, with it, an overall crime rate reduction.

For the same span, the city's violent crime rate — which includes murder, forcible rape, robbery, aggravated assault, and simple assault — fell by 50 percent, from 18 last year to nine this year, said Holderness.

"But, those numbers are so small, a bad weekend, where a couple of things happen, can change that around," he said.

Ashland had nine reported motor vehicle thefts in the first half of this year, the same as last year, said Holderness, a number which usually ends up between 10 to 15 annually. Although this year's recovery rate couldn't be determined, as cases are still being processes, the department usually finds those stolen, said Holderness. During the first half of last year, the department found 67 percent of the motor vehicles stolen and reported in Ashland.

"This is one of the safest communities in the country. You can walk just about anywhere in Ashland and feel safe," said Holderness, "and we work hard to keep it that way."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email swheeler@dailytidings.com.