The other day I got a phone call from a reader in distress. He found his wife’s bike for sale on Craigslist. He was sure it was her bike, but he wasn’t sure how to proceed. I didn’t really have a good answer for him so I asked Officer Robert Pickett of the Southeast Precinct.
He then asked a detective and this is what she said:
1. The person must be able to prove that it is his/her stolen bicycle. This probably means having already reported it stolen to the police, including the bike’s serial number or unique characteristics in the stolen report. If there is any question at all as to the ownership of the bicycle, there is nothing that we will be able to do about it. Unfortunately if there is ever a situation where it is simply one person’s word against the other, we often can’t act.
2. In the past detectives have made calls to arrange to buy the stolen bicycle and then arrested the seller. She explained that their capability to do this will often depend on the strength of the information they have, and the manpower at their disposal on any given day.
3. If a person sees their stolen bicycle for sale on Craig’s list, they should call the non-emergency number for the police 503-823-3333. Dispatch will probably ask questions about how the person knows it is his/her bicycle. If they are satisfied, they will set up a call for an officer to speak with the complainant. The officer probably ask similar questions, and then may decide to involved detectives. Depending on the resources at the time, the officer might also simply decide to take a report, or attempt to get the help of other officers to contact the seller.
It is possible that even if contacted, the person selling the bike might not be arrested or charged, as part of the crime requires that the person “knows” that the bicycle is stolen, which usually requires some sort of admission on the part of the suspect. If the person selling the bike truly didn’t know it was stolen, or is a good actor and has a good story, they might not be arrested. The bike can still be recovered, though.
This offers some good insight into how the police may (or may not) be involved in getting your bike back. Morale of the story is to always file a police report (that includes your serial number!) and make sure you have a foolproof way to identify your bike.
For more on bike theft and prevention, check out my Bike Theft page.