Much progress has been made in DC in the recovery of stolen and abandoned bikes and on the impounding of bicycles over the last few years.
In 2006, the rules for impounded bicycles were changed. They set a 30 day time limit for declaring a bike abandoned and required a 10 day warning period. They also removed the requirement that a bond be posted to recover a bicycle. Impounded bikes are handled by DDOT.
The Bicycle Registration Reform Act of 2007 removed the requirement that bikes be registered - thereby removing the primary vehicle under which the police seized bicycles - and it required the police to check the registration number and serial number of any bicycle recovered by the Metropolitan Police Department against all national bicycle registries.
But more can be done.
It may not require a change in law, but rules should be set up for the treatment of recovered (by DDOT or MPD) bicycles.
2. For bikes not returned under step one, a photo should be taken and placed on a district-run website where people who've had their bikes stolen or impounded can look for them. Arlington does this already, but they should make it search-able by serial number.
3. If they fail to return a bike in steps one and two in a reasonable time, the serial number should be recorded in a search-able online database along with the eventual fate of that bike. If the bike was auctioned, the owner should be able to receive the money it earned (less a possible fee). If it was donated, the owner should be able to get a receipt for tax purposes. If it was scrapped, maybe the owner should be able to grab another bike (or what is left of it) that is scheduled to be scrapped.
4. The MPD and DDOT should report the annual statistics on recovered bikes including total number, number returned, number auctioned, number donated and number scrapped - along with the registries used that year. I don't even know which ones they use (though I'm pretty sure the fee-based National Bike Registry is one of them). The report could also include photos of the bike.
The other jurisdictions could benefit from a similar system.
For a while I considered the idea that bike shops should have to register bikes when selling them. Then I thought, if you can't be bothered to enter your serial number into the free stolen bicycle registry or the $1 National Bike Registry's stolen bicycle registry, maybe you aren't concerned enough. Of course, not everyone has easy access to the internet, so perhaps the police could, in the process of taking a report on a stolen bike, offer to help people fill out the online form for the victim.