In what one can only view as a really good development, MPD has begun posting photos of recovered bicycles online. It appears this is a somewhat recent development, but it's a definite step up from the old "system."
This is one step towards treating bike theft with the seriousness that it deserves, but there is more they could do. (this was #2 on my list from way back in 2009). To refine that list a a bit:
1. Every bike that is reported stolen should be listed on the national Stolen Bike Registry. Either MPD should do this as part of the reporting process or they should strongly encourage the person reporting to do so.
2. The serial numbers of every recovered bike (by MPD, DDOT, DPW, WMATA etc...) should be checked against the national bike registries (including stolen Bike Registries) to see if they've been reported or registered. I've been told this is part of the process, but I'm not confident that is true
3. They should link their stolen bike photo site with those of neighbors like Arlington, and they should make them searchable by serial number. In fact, this could eventually be built into a National system.
4. If they fail to return a bike in steps two and three 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.
5. MPD and DDOT should annually report on stolen bikes. They could report the number and value of bikes stolen and locations, bikes recovered, bikes returned, arrests, convictions, number of bikes 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. What is measured matters. I think once people understood the scope of the problem it would get more attention.
6. Y'know, do more to arrest bike thieves. It seems like a daily occurrence that bikes are stolen off of front porches, why not an occasional sting operation? More bait bike use. Troll craigslist for stolen bikes, etc...