PDA

View Full Version : Police helping to break locks?


penguin
09-17-2006, 03:52 PM
So, a friend of mine had her bike stolen about three months ago and had given up any hope of getting it back until she came out of the downtown Whole Foods a few days ago to see it locked at the rack right in front of her. She made sure it was her serial number and then called the police. When the cop showed up, he ran her name and the serial # to find the report she'd made when it was stolen. Indeed, he said, it was her bike. He told her that he didn't have the tools necessary to break the lock, said "Well, looks like you're going to have to get that lock off", and left the scene. Of course, she didn't know how to break the lock, so she bought a new U-Lock and secured the bike with that. She spent a few days trying to figure out how to break the other lock and failed repeatedly until coming back to find it removed, presumably by the thief at some point. So, luckily she got her bike back.

My question is: does anybody know if this is common police practice in a situation like this? Do they generally just leave you to fend for yourself? I mean, they break the locks of bikes presumed to be abandoned, right? I just have no idea why this officer left the scene without offering any kind of help. Wondering if anybody's had a similar experience.

PoPo
09-18-2006, 08:53 PM
The main purpose for the officer to come there was administrative--to "clear" the stolen report. That means verifying the identity of the owner and checking the serial number of the bike to be sure it actually belongs to him/her, and then taking the serial number out of the stolen database. Once that happens, the bike is "yours" again.

While one would think the officer would help get the lock off the bike, but Portland officers don't normally carry any tools to do such a thing. Most probably don't even know what tools would be required.

Particularly during the day, officers often have other calls stacked up as well, so there is pressure to respond to the next citizen who is also waiting. There is also a general necessity to be available to respond to high-priority, emergency calls as well.

Portland Officers do not slim-jim car doors, either, or jump dead batteries, or help you break into your own house if you are locked out. For the reasons described above, as well as to avoid liability if a mistake is made--I think the Police used to attempt such things but then the city ended up getting sued by people who's property was accidentally damaged in the attempt. I think in smaller jurisdictions, where departments often have fewer calls to answer and people might not be so lawsuit happy, the police might do such things. Most Portland officers will probably suggest that you call a locksmith. It definitely stinks to have your bike stolen AND have to pay for a locksmith, but better than not getting the bike back at all, I reckon.

Rixtir
09-19-2006, 12:22 PM
PoPo, thanks for that explanantion. Unfortunately, PPB policy leaves much to be desired, in my opinion. I wonder if anybody at the PPB sees the problem-- or even cares-- with the procedure you've outlined. First, this:The main purpose for the officer to come there was administrative--to "clear" the stolen report. That means verifying the identity of the owner and checking the serial number of the bike to be sure it actually belongs to him/her, and then taking the serial number out of the stolen database. Once that happens, the bike is "yours" again.makes it clear that the priority of the PPB is to process paperwork, rather than to help victims of crime. The woman in question found her own bike, on her own, and confirmed the serial number on her own. What did the officer do beyond that? Nothing, except to remove her stolen bike from the database. The stolen bike that is now "hers" is still in the possession of the thief. That doesn't seem like very effective or very caring police work to me.

Does anybody at the PPB see the problem here? Consider:

1) The bike is now "hers" again, so she attempts to cut the lock, only the thief comes out and confronts her. Because the ofgicer has "done his duty" and then left, she's now on her own against the thief. he intimidates her-- or worse-- into backing off;

2) Next time, the bike belongs to some guy, who is confronted by the thief; a fight ensues over the bike, because the officer has "done his duty' and left. Maybe the bike theft victim wins, maybe the thief wins.

3) The bike belongs to some burly guy who decides to teach the thief a lesson, so when the thief comes out to his bike, he gets stomped into the ground. Only he's not the thief, he's a good faith purchaser of a stolen bike.

The PPB procedure is clearly deficient in helping bike theft victims-- and I haven't even touched on the widespread perception that the PPB does not care about bike theft and will do nothing to stop bike theft in this city.

Is the procedure you outlined above standard PPB policy for all stolen vehicles? If a stolen car is "recovered" in the same manner, does the PPB leave it to the car theft victim to recover his/her own vehicle?

Rixtir
09-19-2006, 12:24 PM
PoPo, a somewhat unrelated question: If I have a bike that I would like to make sure wasn't stolen, how would I check that?

penguin
09-19-2006, 05:16 PM
Popo,

I'd like to add that a few years ago, another friend of mine in a similar situation was told by an officer that he'd be authorized to take the bike back by any means necessary and added that if "somebody" was hurt, there would be no consequence because my friend would be "defending his property". I find it hard to believe that this is policy or that a cop would advocate that, but as Rixter pointed out, leaving the victims of theft to fend for themselves seems to invite situations where either side could be in easily preventable danger.

So, if my friend had requested it, would an officer have taken time out of the day to stand by as the lock was broken?

Jonathan Maus
09-19-2006, 08:55 PM
I haven't even touched on the widespread perception that the PPB does not care about bike theft and will do nothing to stop bike theft in this city.

Rixtir,
they do care about bike theft, and they have done something to help. I worked with the Traffic Division to create a new bike theft prevention and recovery card (which is available at bike shops and passed out at events around the city) and they now have a page on the PPB website with the bike theft info (http://www.portlandonline.com/police/index.cfm?c=ecjii) as well. They even link to my site and encourage people to list their bikes on the BikePortland Stolen Bike Listings.

I know this isn't a huge amount of investment on their part, but it does show that they care about the issue.

To make them care more about it they would have to feel pressure from above...which means getting the community and/or an advocacy group to write letters, emails and make phone calls to get the Mayor's attention.

All that being said, I believe most cops are generally less sensitive to a stolen bicycle (than a stolen car for instance) simply because they personally do not rely on a bicycle for transportation.

jyl
09-21-2006, 08:06 PM
Why didn't she simply call a locksmith?

penguin
09-22-2006, 09:13 AM
>>Why didn't she simply call a locksmith?<<

She's pretty green as far as bike stuff goes, and so are most of her friends. I don't think she even solicited the advice of a shop. I didn't hear about it until the whole event had happened. Also, I don't know what a locksmith costs, but she's pretty poor....

Rixtir
09-23-2006, 02:46 PM
Rixtir,
they do care about bike theft, and they have done something to help. I worked with the Traffic Division to create a new bike theft prevention and recovery card (which is available at bike shops and passed out at events around the city) and they now have a page on the PPB website with the bike theft info (http://www.portlandonline.com/police/index.cfm?c=ecjii) as well. They even link to my site and encourage people to list their bikes on the BikePortland Stolen Bike Listings.

I know this isn't a huge amount of investment on their part, but it does show that they care about the issue.While it's nice that they're doing something, all they've really done is coordinate with you on work you began; I'll bet you approached them, rather than the other way around. In other words, if they hadn't joined you in your effort, they'd be doing nothing. You have done more to help bike theft victims than anybody else in Portland (I realize you had some GREAT help with the new computer system).

One would think that the police department would take a crime problem more seriously than they have. Especially coming from a police dept that seems to have PLENTY of officers available to set up stop sign enforcement efforts targeted at cyclists, speeding cyclist enforcement efforts, brakeless fixie enforcement efforts... You'd think they could do something more than say they're too busy to help a woman recover her bike when it's right there in front of the officer. You'd think they could do something more than look the other way when second hand shops are openly selling stolen goods (as reported in the papers within the last year).

The impression I get from the PPB is that they're barely concealing their hostility towards cyclists, and that they're doing next to nothing to help when cyclists are the victims of crime. Maybe that's not an accurate impression, maybe it is. I don't know. But it's the impression I get based on what they prioritize in this town. Let's put it this way: If the PPB put equal emphasis on enfrocing the traffic laws (and to be fair, they should be policing both motorists and cyclists, not just cyclists) AND on fighting bike theft, I'd have a different impression of the PPB's attude towards cyclists. As it is, I'm left with the distinct impression that the PPB is hostile towards cyclists, and doesn't care that there's a thriving bike theft industry in this town.

To make them care more about it they would have to feel pressure from above...which means getting the community and/or an advocacy group to write letters, emails and make phone calls to get the Mayor's attention.We should probably make an organized effort to do that. I think the PPB could do far more to both prevent theft,** and return stolen bikes to their rightfful owners. Maybe we need to make that one of our priorites.

All that being said, I believe most cops are generally less sensitive to a stolen bicycle (than a stolen car for instance) simply because they personally do not rely on a bicycle for transportation.Maybe, but that shouldn't matter. I'll bet most male cops don't carry purses either, but that shouldn't mean that they would be less sensitive to the victim of a purse-snatching. They're supposed to be fighting crime; it shouldn't matter to them that they feel a personal conection to that crime in order to do their job.




** One type of crime prevention I would NOT want to see in Portland is what an Arizona PD did: Leave a multi-thousand dollar bicycle unlocked at various locations in poor neighborhoods. The reason they used an expensive bike was to make the theft a felony. The problems with what the PD in that Arizona town did are:

1. Nobody leaves a multi-thousand dollar bike unlocked and unattended, so they weren't solving any "real" crimes;

2. They deliberately targeted a poor neighborhood, rather than targeting neighborhoods were bike thefts might be occurring;

3. They deliberately made it a felony, although the thieves they caught had no idea of the value of the bike;

4. They only caught opportunists, rather than professional bike thieves.

If they had wanted to catch bike thieves, rather than some random opportunist walking by, they could have studied where bike thefts are occurring, what types of bikes are being targeted, how the thefts are occurring, and then set up a sting to catch the bike thieves. Instead, they sent a couple of dishonest poor people away on a felony rap, and left the bike thieves free to continue stealing bikes. That is NOT an effort I'd like to see replicated here in Portland.

PoPo
09-26-2006, 12:59 AM
Sorry to be late, I don't check this forum every day....

Good question about wondering about how to check if a bicycle is stolen. I would recommend calling the police non-emergency number 503-823-3333 and asking the call-taker. If you have the bicycle serial number, they might be able to run it for you on the phone and tell you immediately if it has been reported as stolen. It may be that they can't though...I'm sorry that I don't know all of the policies the Bureau Of Emergency Communications follows. If they can't help, leave me a message at SE Precinct and I'll see if I can help ya--503-823-2143.

After reading your frustrations with the Police and bicycle theft, I'm feeling way too defensive to give you a good answer. I appreciate Jonathan's reply, though, and would support his suggestion that the police are part of our community and will reflect the priorities of the community as a whole. The avid bikers who read and post to this site are still a minority in our population and will have to be patient, organized participants in change, no matter how obviously righteous we know the cause to be. We will also have to be inclusive and open in order to gain allies in our cause and make our voice louder. There is catharsis in voicing anger and frustration, but there is also danger of alienation of potential friends. We've gotta find a way to work together without assuming ill-will on anyone's part.

And I will say that if penguin's friend (or anyone else) is ever being attacked, over a bicycle or whatever, she will get a bunch of other Portland citizens in blue uniforms screaming her way with lights and sirens to help, no questions asked, and at no minor risk to themselves, even though they've probably never even met her. However frustrating the police seem from the outside looking in, (or sometimes from the inside looking in), I kinda feel like we as a community can at least be proud that we've developed that kind of service for ourselves.


And hey, you know what firefighters and police officers all have in common?


They all want to be firefighters.

PoPo
09-26-2006, 01:36 AM
Popo,

I'd like to add that a few years ago, another friend of mine in a similar situation was told by an officer that he'd be authorized to take the bike back by any means necessary and added that if "somebody" was hurt, there would be no consequence because my friend would be "defending his property". I find it hard to believe that this is policy or that a cop would advocate that, but as Rixter pointed out, leaving the victims of theft to fend for themselves seems to invite situations where either side could be in easily preventable danger.

So, if my friend had requested it, would an officer have taken time out of the day to stand by as the lock was broken?

It would have been up to the officer to decide if he/she had the time to stand by. That exact thing happened to me once, and I wrote reports in my police car next to the locked bike for a while, but then got another call and had to go.

Regarding the "by any means necessary" idea, you are right, there is something wrong with that suggestion, isn't there. You should check Oregon Revised Statutes on Use of Force. Generally the law allows you to use force to defend yourself or your property or to make a "citizens arrest" when you see a crime occurring, but the word "reasonable" is invariably put in the law somewhere. And any question about reasonable use of force would ultimately be decided by a jury or judge. For example, you catch someone trying to steal your bicycle and you tackle the dude and pin him to the ground while you wait for the police to arrive and cuff him--or you tackle him, have him pinned, but also whack him a bunch of times with your lock and your buddy kicks him, breaking a few bones and giving him a minor concussion, and then the police arrive--which would seem more reasonable? (Maybe we should assume it isn't your own bike but a stranger's bike that you know is being stolen, to get a less biased idea of reasonable!) It if was a little skinny guy, maybe the latter would be unreasonable and criminal. If it was a huge guy twice your size who wouldn't stop fighting or kept trying to reach into his pocket for a weapon, maybe the latter WOULD be reasonable. Much depends on the circumstances of the situation.

It was remarkable to me when I actually started reading a lot of these criminal laws how "common sense" a lot of it seemed. There are a lot of urban myths about what the law does and doesn't allow. If you ever hear something about "the law" that at the base of it just doesn't make sense, check it yourself (http://www.leg.state.or.us/). I would bet that most of the time you will find that the thing you heard was exaggerated or simply untrue. (Most of the time, not all of the time.)

Rixtir
09-26-2006, 05:54 PM
After reading your frustrations with the Police and bicycle theft, I'm feeling way too defensive to give you a good answer.Fair enough, I can understand that. I didn't mean to put you on the defensive; I just think it's important for the PPB to hear crititcism when it could be doing a better job. Otherwise, how will the Bureau know? Maybe you can read it again later and see if any of it strikes you as being accurate. I do appreciate that you didn't just give a defensive response.

Incidentally, The Asian Reporter (http://www.asianreporter.com/) has an article on the PPB's bike theft program in the most recent edition. It's not online yet, but when it's posted online, I'll post a link.

nm973
10-05-2006, 02:38 AM
First question to ask most people on this forum. How many of you would do a Police (or firefighter for that matter) officers job for what they get paid? I can tell you for what they get paid, having to be punched, struck at with objects, bit, touch people who are bleeding and have HIV/AIDS, see the horror that is out there in this world, respond to people doing horrible things to other people, have friends die in the line of duty, and the list goes on. Not to mention, these guys are non-stop busy. Most people wouldn't do this job for 100,000 per year, and these guys do it for much less.

No, I am not a cop, and I don't work for the government either, but I have a friend who was a cop for a while. Talk about a hard job.

It is hard for me to hear people complaining about how lazy these cops are (implied or direct) with no real appreciation for everything else they do. I am sure when the lady was left with her bike, the cop was not off to grab some milk and cookies. Maybe he had a kid who was possibly missing, or something else that is much more important than a bike (like peoples lives). Remember, as PoPo said, they have to serve the community as a whole, just like how some laws are for the whole, and not for minority groups such as cyclists.

I ride about 6,000 miles a year, and I have a very expensive bike, so I understand how hard it would be to loose a bike. If it was my bike, I would have accepted what the cop did. The lady was outside the entrance of whole foods, I mean what the hell, if someone would have been aggressive another citizen would have stepped in. I am sure if your lady friend was that concerned, she may have also went around asking people that day, considering it took her two days to figure it out, I am guessing it wasn't that high on her priority list, so why should it have been for this cop? Me, I would have been on the phone with friends and bike shops to figure out how to break that lock NOW. Would you have liked the cop to sit out there for two days and personally watch her bike. Come on people, seriously, put this in to perspective, this cop took it as seriously as she did.

Yes, we need to make our voices heard, by saying constructive things, but saying just how you think they suck. If someone tells you that you suck and you can't do your job and your priority is paperwork, how are you going to react? I am going to give you two fingers and stop listening to you. However, had you approached it more civil like.

I understand that law enforcement is busy these days, but I really feel they could have handled this situation better by maybe helping this lady out. Does anyone know why the cop would not have helped this lady out? Hey PoPo, if you are lurking on this board, can you tell us what maybe we could do to get some more support for stolen bikes?

Then maybe you could have referenced for some sites for people to visit, like the BTA and maybe who we should email/write/call to ask for more bike theft support. Hell, even if every cop had a little card they could hand to someone of some ideas of how to get their bikes out of the locks. Like using your own lock to temp secure the bike, call a bike shop, call a lock smith, call cycling friends, that would have helped that lady out a lot. Instead, you just attack.

Action and change is great, but if you just go around pissing people off, you are just going to get pissed back on by someone bigger.

Rixtir
10-05-2006, 02:15 PM
<snip> Instead, you just attack. <snip> What are you on? And should I call the PoPo?

endform
10-11-2006, 04:27 PM
I think most people take issue with the underlying attitudes and beauracracies that shape the end result of what happens when a police officer responds to a call rather than the police officers themselves.