Petaluma police volunteers fix up unclaimed bikes before donating to needy

When Petaluma police find lost unregistered bikes, they’re taken into evidence while owners are sought, but after 90 days those not involved in criminal cases have to be moved.

That’s where volunteers Jim and Merle Inden step in.

The retired Petaluma couple are the latest in a line of volunteers who, since 2015, have fixed up the lost bikes and dropped them off at a rotating list of nonprofits.

Before that, the department worked with a Northern California retailer to send the bikes to a nonprofit in Africa, said Jennifer Pritchard, who coordinates the police department’s volunteer program. When she came onboard in 2015, she changed that.

“For me, it seemed sad,” she said. “We had so many nonprofits with needy families here.”

Since then, more than 80 bicycles have been donated to local charities including Mentor Me, Committee on the Shelterless and Sonoma County’s Child Parent Institute, where the Indens dropped off five bikes just a few weeks ago.

Next on the list is Social Advocates for Youth.

Merle Inden, 67, first volunteered with the department after retiring as a dental assistant in 2011. Jim, now 77, decided to join her last year.

“I came home and told him, I said, ‘I wish everyone could see what was going on in the police department,’” she said. “It’s just such wonderful people.”

When the bike recycling position opened up this spring, it seemed a natural fit for the two.

“Jim has a workshop where he works with wood and tinkers with all kinds of stuff,” his wife said. “And he used to work on bikes when he was a kid a lot, so it kind of worked.”

When bikes get released from evidence after their 90-day stay, Jim Inden heads to the department, picks them up and gets to work.

So far, he’s finished about 10 bikes, his wife said, among them a San Francisco Giants-themed bike.

“It’s a little bike that would be like for a 5-year-old,” she said. “It was multicolored, and he stripped it down and made it orange and black, and put a San Francisco Giants logo on it.”

Some of the costs are covered by a department fund, but the Indens often pitch in to cover costs.

“It just really is very rewarding to give back to your community,” Merle Inden said.

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