My Story to Recover a Stolen Bike
After reading many success stories about how people recover a stolen bike, I thought I had to share my experience. I’ve read about stories from many different places, most of them around Seattle, Portland, Toronto and of course Los Angeles where I’m from.
My mountain bike got stolen from the Sherman Oaks Galleria, the wire lock was cut and hanging there by itself. According to the police, the Sherman Oaks Galleria is a hotbed for thieves. It’s a shame that management of the galleria cares so little as to not even move the existing surveillance camera a little closer to the bike racks, but I can see why they wouldn’t care. You see, the bike detectives actually look at them, yea to my surprise, but they can’t recognize anyone because it’s too far away.
After my bike was stolen I filed a police report with the LAPD, Van Nuys division, with little expectation that I would ever see my bike again. Knowing that many stolen bikes end up on Craigslist, I made it my daily task to check if my bike got listed. Low and behold, two weeks later there it is. At first it didn’t seem like my bike, because the main picture was not my bike, but rather a pic from a stock bike of the same type, with the reflective batches on the wheels and handle bar attached. But looking at the other 3 photos posted, I clearly recognized my bike by multiple, distinct features.
Another indication that the bike thief tried to conceal the ad on Craigslist from the bikes rightful owner was that the bike type and description were slightly off and not matching the actual bike, but just enough to get an interested potential buyer to ask for clarification and more info. This clearly wasn’t an innocent person who happened the misfortune to pick a stolen bike and now trying to sell it.
Best part of all, the thief made one picture with the bike mounted on a bike rack at the rear of the car, clearly showing his license plate. One the first letter was covered, but easy to cross reference for someone from law enforcement. But then it seemed off, too much of a rookie mistake. I mean the ad was clearly from a seasoned thief, it listed text number only, the first and main photo is from a different bike, so as to not being too obvious to the rightful owner. Then it dawn on me. Only law enforcement would have access to cross reference the license place with the car. So if someone were to contact the thief by any means other than the number to text as listed on the ad, it must be law enforcement. Quite smart, but a little obvious or so I thought.
I immediately called the bike detective from the Van Nuys LAPD, but she already left for the day. It was a Wednesday around 4 pm and my adrenaline was at a rush. Should I text the thief and meet up? Or wait until I get to talk to law enforcement? I decided the latter. My bike was listed for $500, while I paid $600 couple of years ago. Hence, not such a good deal that the bike would fly off the shelf.
The next day I would call LAPD every 20 minutes, while working on a document that outlines evidence of proof of ownership. Finally around noon I got a call back from the bike detective. Told her my story and sent her my document I had ready by then. After couple of follow up calls, one more photo of my bike before it was stolen, then there was silence. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but thought of two possibilities; 1 – she calls me back and we plan out a recovery action by meeting the thief, 2 – I would get a call from her telling me to pick up the recovered bike. In any case, I was 99% sure I would get my bike back.
I didn’t hear anything that day and became more and more confident about recovering my bike. I even imagined how police is catching up with the thief this second. It was not until around 10am the following day that I got a call from the bike detective. She explained to me how they contacted the thief, and how he already sold the bike and did not want to tell them who he sold it to, out of fear that he’d loose his investment. He supposedly bought the bike at a swap meat, and sold it on the day he listed the bike on Craigslist.
In disbelief, I asked when they talked to the thief. She said they contacted him the night before and talked to him that morning. By what means I wonder, phone? I was in shock. She clearly felt bad, explaining how the person who bought my bike would loose his money. Poor guy. I didn’t know what to say, it was the outcome I just wasn’t prepared for. How could this go so wrong?
We hung up. I was convinced the bike thief was laying, because the ad wasn’t placed like someone honest would. And selling a bike on the very first day it is listed with a price that seems too high? Don’t think so. But the part that struck me most, was that the specialists in bike theft, the people I trusted to know their field, fell for the license plate trick. And then didn’t even lure the guy into an exchange. I man I was thankful for their help, but after all would have been more likely successful if I had contacted and met the guy myself.
So there you have it. I still keep looking for my stolen bike, but with little hope at this point. If you’re reading this and still have your bike, please get yourself a good kryptonite lock and dump that wire lock.
There are two main reasons I wrote this story: 1 – I needed it off my chest, share it with people who face a similar challenge, and 2 – if you find your bike, be smart and don’t just hand it over to the police. Either work with them, ask what their plan is, or take matter in your own hands if you feel like you don’t get the desired support.