'Total loss': Recreational vehicles a favourite for Central Okanagan thieves

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KELOWNA - Jack Almond had his dirt bike for less than week before it got stolen.

He bought it on Dec. 30 last year for $3,000. As an avid biker, he was planning to use it in the summer when he was away from school. He stored it in an underground parking lot in Kelowna and secured it with two chains and a wheel lock before draping a bike cover over it. It was about as secure as a dirt bike can get.

Almond returned to the parking lot four or five nights later and found an empty spot where his bike had been. He suspects someone used a bolt cutter to rip through the chains and steal his bike. He contacted the RCMP and tried to get security footage from the parking lot to find out who stole his vehicle. It's been two months since his bike went missing and there have been no leads. Almond is $3,000 out of pocket on his missing, uninsured dirt bike.

"It's a total loss for me," he said.

He's by no means alone. A surprisingly high number of recreational vehicles seem to go missing across the Central Okanagan and all owners face the same problem: Recreational vehicles are tempting targets for thieves and recovering them is no easy task.

The Central Okanagan Crime Stoppers website keeps a record of all reported stolen recreational vehicles in the area for the past five years. Unfortunately, they are one of few Crime Stoppers organizations that do so we can't make any comparisons to determine if local thefts are an anomaly or if the number of thefts is rising or falling. According to the site, 60 motorbikes have been reported stolen in the Central Okanagan since 2014. As a biker, Almond is surprised by that number, thinking it might be too low since he feels thefts have gone up in the last few years. He also thinks mountain bikes are an easier target for thieves than motorbikes.

"Mountain bike thefts are insane," he said. "It's easy to just walk away with them."

Motorbikes are just one part of recreational vehicle theft. According to the website, 40 ATVs have been reported stolen since 2014. Eileen Martel with the Kelowna and District Fish and Game Club said hunters often complain about their machines being stolen while they're in the woods. Martel said some hunters will leave gear on their ATVs as they venture into the bush and return later to an empty spot.

"It's a problem," she said. "It's extremely frustrating."

Thieves also target other recreational vehicles, although with less frequency than motorbikes and ATVs. According to the website, 18 sleds and ski-doos, 13 boats, and 9 RVs have been reported stolen over the last five years.

Plenty of people have lost their recreational vehicles in the Central Okanagan over the years, but comparing these stats with other areas is difficult. Crime Stoppers in Kamloops, Northeast BC, Prince George, and Greater Victoria do not keep records of stolen recreational vehicles on their websites.

According to Cpl. Jesse O'Donaghey, Kelowna RCMP keep records on stolen vehicles, but it would be "too labour intensive" to parse through every report to determine which thefts were recreational vehicle-related. The Central Okanagan Crime Stoppers website is one of the few resources available to the public for tracking recreational vehicle theft in the area.

Jack Almond still has no idea where his dirt bike went. He reported the theft to the RCMP, but nothing's turned up yet. He's disappointed, to say the least.

"They definitely didn't get my hopes up," he said. "They didn't seem super serious."

Almond's theft report file number is now in the system, which means if someone tries to register his vehicle, it will be flagged as stolen. Kent Jorgenson with the Okanagan Trail Riders Association said registration is key for finding stolen vehicles.

"Any off-road vehicle needs to be registered," he said.

Almond suspects his dirt bike might have been taken out of the province to be sold, but he's unsure. He's posted about his theft on Facebook, receiving dozens of shares, but no leads aside from a man who said he'd drop off Almond's bike if he paid $75. After a few quick questions, Almond realized the man was just pretending to have the bike.

"I thought it was shady," he said. "He was trying to get money from me."

For now, Almond, like many recreational vehicle owners in the Central Okanagan, has to wait and hope for his bike to turn up.


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