Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Hunch leads to purchase of stolen bike and a happy ending

Posted by on February 26th, 2013 at 9:32 am

Jennifer got her bike back.
(Photo: Jennifer Plaza)

Add this to the many ways stolen bikes get recovered…

On Sunday night, Timo Forsberg and his friend Vivian Yuan were chatting on NE 28th Street when a “shady dude” approached and offered to sell them a nice road bike. It was a Trek 2200, which retails for about $1,000. “He asked for $250,” recalled Timo’s fiance Esther Harlow in an email to us about the incident. “And it seemed way too nice for some guy trying to sell it on the street late at night.”

With a strong hunch that the bike might be stolen, Timo tracked down the seller a few minutes later, expressed interest in the bike, and eventually talked him down to $55. With the bike in hand, Timo and Esther left the bike at a friend’s house nearby and then posted a “Found bike” notice on Craigslist at 11:40 pm Sunday night:

“WE were on NE 28th and a guy was walking around trying to sell a bike for $250 that obviously was stolen. We talked him down to $55 (he bargained it up from 50. Weird I know.) Describe the model, serial # and/or description so we can reunite you. :)”

They hadn’t heard anything back by the next morning. Meanwhile, Adam George, a friend who had heard about the bike, went to the BikePortland Stolen Bike Listings to see if a bike matching that description had been listed. Sure enough, yesterday at 10:41 am, a woman named Jennifer Plaza listed a Trek 2200. She even offered a $100 reward for its return. The description matched and Adam forwarded the listing to Esther and Vivian and they used the contact information posted in the listing to contact Jennifer.

By last night, Jennifer had her bike back and this bike theft story got its happy ending.

This story is another good example of how a strong community and smart actions following a theft can increase the chances of getting a bike back. Jennifer did the right thing in listing the bike as stolen right away. Timo followed his hunch that the bike was stolen (based on the man’s “general state of hygiene, and the fact that he had on old worn sneakers but the bike had fancy clipless pedals and was too small for him”) and engaged the seller. Esther helped spread the word via Craigslist and social media. Timo’s friend Vivian (who lives a few blocks away) agreed to hold the bike and arrange the meeting with its owner. And Adam George spotted the bike on the BikePortland listings and told Esther about it.

In my experience, people looking after one another is a common way bikes get recovered. No police or high-tech solutions necessary. Nice work everyone!
Check out the archives for more stolen bike recovery stories.

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  • Steve B February 26, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Way to go Timo & Esther! Portland super heroes.

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    • wsbob February 26, 2013 at 10:04 am

      Great that the lady got her bike back! Many more happy rides for her!

      This story tells a lot: how brazen, or desperate thieves can be. How complicit in thievery many people may be…all the people that would simply pay an extraordinarily low price and just consider themselves to have gotten ‘a good deal’.

      This is a tough way to achieve recovery of a stolen bike. Lots of well intentioned people picking up on signs that a bike offered may be stolen, wouldn’t have the ready cash to make a deal on the spot as this guy Timo did. In that event, stolen bikes just disappear into less honorable hands.

      I always wonder how a decent bike like this one, gets stolen in the first place. Hope it wasn’t another ‘neglected to lock’ instance, like the story of last week.

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    • Esther February 26, 2013 at 11:04 am

      and Vivian! Best band mate and friend EVER!

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  • Gabriel Amadeus Tiller February 26, 2013 at 9:46 am

    But half of portland’s wannabe messengers have poor hygiene, old worn sneakers, and bikes way too nice for their paychecks!

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    • el timito February 26, 2013 at 10:33 am

      He also didn’t have a helmet, so…
      oh, wait. Nevermind.

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    • q`Tzal February 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      Bathing is too mainstream but riding a piece of Ahearn’s art like it’s stolen is the hipsteriest!

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  • patrickz February 26, 2013 at 9:57 am

    Congratulations to everyone involved. We need people like you and stories of this kind.

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  • Spokesy February 26, 2013 at 10:15 am

    I’m building up a racing road bike right now with components alone retailing at about $1000 and wear shoes with holes in them, raggedy clothes, punk hair etc. Can’t wait until someone tries to accuse me of stolen bike.

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    • Peter James February 26, 2013 at 11:09 am

      The fact is that if someone is trying to sell what is clearly an expensive item for next to nothing then yes, I hope people judge the hell out of them and suspect them of being up to no good. In this case it reunited someone with their stolen bike and that’s a great thing. People who don’t judge someone who looks shady engaging this this behavior are part of them problem and are what helps make stolen bikes so easy for thieves to profit from.

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    • Esther February 26, 2013 at 11:12 am

      Rol & Halley: I agree with your assessments about the codification of class markers and cheap/holey clothing versus nice bikes. I think Timo was trying to find some way to quantify his gut reaction that “the bike didn’t fit with the owner” and out of context in this article, it comes across wince-worthy and as saying poor people aren’t allowed to have nice bikes. Which I’m going to go out on a limb and say is pretty much the opposite of how things would work in his ideal world.

      Personally..I think this is an happy ending story all around. The guy walks away $55 richer and without suffering any criminalization (I much prefer that to seeing him get a charge on his record). The owner earns a sad but relatively cheap lesson about bike theft security.

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      • el timito February 26, 2013 at 11:32 am

        Thanks, Esther, for clarifying.
        I think we can all agree there are two things in the world that are odious – bike theft and poverty. Until we come up with a more just way to distribute the wealth of the world I fear both will persist.
        But at least it drives us to create art:

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        • RWL1776 February 26, 2013 at 3:44 pm

          “Until we come up with a more just way to distribute the wealth of the world I fear both will persist.” I am just wondering why you feel everyone’s wealth must be distributed to those who did not earn it?

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          • Daniel R. Miller February 26, 2013 at 4:42 pm

            Boy, a good example of reading into something based on ideology. Timo didn’t say actually anything about distributing wealth away from people who already have it. He seems to be talking about a just distribution of wealth in a more general sense, which could be accomplished (depending on one’s beliefs) by anything from pure Adam Smith-ian free-marketism to organized autocratic state-ownership to anarcho-libertarian gift-economics, and everything in between.

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          • are February 26, 2013 at 5:08 pm

            you need to look very carefully at your definitions of “earn” and “did not earn.” in particular, you might want to examine what [capital] inputs you started with that someone else did not.

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          • Esther February 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm

            RWL1776, I believe so strongly that people who didn’t “earn it” deserve money that I took the $100 we were given as a reward and donated $45 of it to BikePortland for hosting the Stolen Bike Listings, and the remaining $55 out of our pocket to Wrench Raiders, who fix bikes for people who did absolutely nothing to earn it. Have a nice day!

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      • El Biciclero February 26, 2013 at 3:24 pm

        “Personally..I think this is an happy ending story all around. The guy walks away $55 richer and without suffering any criminalization (I much prefer that to seeing him get a charge on his record). The owner earns a sad but relatively cheap lesson about bike theft security.”

        Wait–criminal rewarded, victim “taught a lesson”. Sorry, but that sounds backwards. Kudos on getting the bike back, but it seems the rewards and lessons should be redistributed.

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        • Alan 1.0 February 26, 2013 at 5:35 pm

          Maybe that falls into “Perfect is the enemy of good” territory?

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    • Chucklehead February 28, 2013 at 11:10 am

      If my gut reaction is right 9/10 times, I’m going with my gut. Sure, idealism is great, but reality is better.

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  • mh February 26, 2013 at 10:16 am

    Thanks, Timo.

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  • Rol February 26, 2013 at 10:18 am

    Warning, this really has nothing to do with bike theft: It bugs me that the markers of one’s class in this society have been so thoroughly codified, that you can instantly tell when someone “doesn’t fit.” No matter where you are on the economic spectrum, it makes for a very narrowly-circumscribed and conformist existence.

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    • Jon February 26, 2013 at 10:58 am

      Sadly visual clues are often the fastest way to catch things that are out of place. I know it is not PC, but when I see a guy in ragged dirty cloths drinking from a bottle covered in a paper bag on a park bench with a $1000 bicycle with clipless pedals next to him, I’m going to guess the bike is stolen. I’m also guessing I’m going to be correct 9 times out of 10. Closing your eyes to the differences don’t make them go away. A smart thief would have had a can of PBR in his hand and be dressed like a hipster. Nobody would have given him a second look.

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    • Chucklehead February 28, 2013 at 11:16 am


      creating stereotypes is an evolutionary adaption. Predictability = survivability. Is there a chance that a large striped or spotted cat won’t kill me….sure. But the odds are pretty slim and it is best to behave based upon the frequency of past behaviors (e.g., observation). Since most of your class indicators are indeed observations, it makes complete sense to operate on them. Sure there may be exceptions, but they are rare. Rare enough that they need not be given much weight.

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  • Spiffy February 26, 2013 at 10:28 am

    bike description from listing: Bright red handle bar tape, Silver bars, Black bike rack…

    none of those things are on the bike in the picture… I’m guessing the thief “cleaned” it of its outstanding features before reselling it…

    many people put brightly colored things on their biked to make them stand out… unfortunately those things are the first to go when a thief gets their hands on it…

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  • Brian February 26, 2013 at 10:32 am

    I suppose the situation was under control, but. I imagine the most dangerous point of the transaction was when Timo and friends had finished the transaction and the crook was aware that no Police were involved. That’s when they would get jumped and have wallets and purses taken.

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    • Esther February 26, 2013 at 10:57 am

      Timo made the transaction in a clean, well-lit place with security cameras (the Plaid Pantry where he had to get cash from the ATM and make change by bying a power bar πŸ˜‰

      Jonathan, small technicality. Timo & Vivian were out & spotted the stolen bike. I wasn’t with them at the time. I never actually even saw the bike. Just did the social media & telephone call legwork πŸ˜‰

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      • Esther February 26, 2013 at 10:58 am

        Also Adam George (bike & trailer builder extraordinaire) deserves credit for being the one to spot & forward me the stolen bike listing within 20 minutes after it was posted.

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      • Esther February 26, 2013 at 10:58 am

        Also Adam George (bike & trailer builder extraordinaire) deserves credit for being the one to spot & forward me the stolen bike listing within 20 minutes after it was posted.

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  • thefuture February 26, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Spokesy & Rol…See what you’re saying but the fact that the guy tried to sell a bike for way less than it was clearly worth to random people on the street at night is what seemed to raise their suspicions. Its not like they saw the guy just riding it down the street and confronted him.

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    • 9watts February 26, 2013 at 10:47 am

      Not only that, but my favorite part is the seller’s willingness to take 20% of his asking price for a bike that anyone can tell retails for, well, A LOT more. That is a great trick, btw. I may try that some time. Thanks for presence of mind, Timo and great writeup, Jonathan.

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    • pengo February 26, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Yep. It’s the actions more than anything. If a well groomed guy in a BMW approached me unsolicited and offered to sell me a high-end road bike for $200 it would appear just as shady.

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  • JNE February 26, 2013 at 11:22 am

    “…happy ending story all around. The guy walks away $55 richer and without suffering any criminalization (I much prefer that to seeing him get a charge on his record)….”

    This I don’t follow. Stealing is stealing, and remains a crime in my book.

    The good samaritans did a good turn, absolutely, but I would just as well have liked to see the thief arrested.

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  • JNE February 26, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Sorry – just one more thing about this suggestion about how we should pay theives to get our bikes back: Bikesnob is going to make all Portlanders suffer for that comment.

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    • Esther February 26, 2013 at 11:35 am

      God forbid I incur the derision of a random guy who lives 3000 miles away and has no involvement with the situation. And yes, I am totally personally responsible for the wellbeing and public perception of 593,820 Portlanders. Yep.

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  • Eric February 26, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I’m torn by this story…
    On the one hand it’s a great deal that the bike was reunited with its owner but on the other the fact that the (alleged) thief walked away with a pocketful of cash and the motivation to (allegedly) steal again makes it less of a feel good story. Hopefully the folks who buy his next bike are as conscientious as Timo and Vivian.

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    • 9watts February 26, 2013 at 12:02 pm

      I’m a little surprised by the punitive tone of several of the comments here. I despise bike theft as much as the next person, but given all that we know about our justice system do you folks really think that arresting this fellow would make the world a better place? Or him less likely someday to steal another bike? I think el timito said it well above.

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      • Eric February 26, 2013 at 12:31 pm

        My tone wasn’t meant to be punitive, more sadly realistic than anything else. The comment was more directed to the upbeat tone of the story than any sort of misguided idea of justice.

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  • Adam February 26, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    A good story! But I’m going to be nitpicky, and say that a couple of things irritate me about it.

    1) Given that *everyone* these days has a smartphone with a camera, why did neither of them bother to surreptitiously take a photo of thief? Even a blurry photo could have been passed onto the police. They probably know who he is. The police have a lot of sketchy folks on their radar.

    2) I know it was a means to and end, but I think giving a thief money for an obviously stolen bike is just encouraging them. Isn’t it also illegal to buy stolen property?

    No, I don’t know what I would have done instead. But these are just my thoughts…

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    • pengo February 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm

      I think that trying to taking a picture of the guy would be a high risk/low reward situation. The risk being that the guy notices the photo being taken and at best runs off with the bike and at worst becomes violent. In the event that you manage to get the picture, the police maybe/maybe don’t know who he is, maybe/maybe don’t know where to find him, and likely can’t prove that he’s the guy who stole the bike anyhow. If I thought I was on the verge of recovering a stolen bike I’d probably not do anything to jeopardize it, even if I thought I could be sneaky about it. Imperfect, but I’d rather see the bike recovered than the guy maybe/maybe not punished.

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    • are February 26, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      the relevant statute is http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/164.095. the key question would be whether what timo did falls within the definition at paragraph 3, when his intention was to release the property to its legal owner. i think a prosecutor would have a hard time making such a case.

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  • JNE February 26, 2013 at 12:36 pm

    Still applauding what happened in this particular story (theft victim only loses $55, instead of a $2k bike), I think it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that:

    — punishing people for committing acts that we call “crimes,” such as stealing for example, has the effect of deterring indiviudals, and society at large, from committing those acts.

    — rewarding people for committing acts, such as the act of stealing a bicycle, has the effect of encouraging individuals, and society at large, to commit those acts.

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    • 9watts February 26, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Is that how it works?

      Thanks for the PSA.

      cue Occupy Movement.

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    • 9watts February 28, 2013 at 6:58 am

      If punishment in your mind is so effective, why do we–punitive society that we are–continue to have the highest incarceration rates in the world? If your proposition were correct we should have long ago eradicated crime through deterrence given our national obsession with police, crime, prisons, and punishment.

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  • Andrew K February 26, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    I love these stories.

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  • dave February 26, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    From the title of the story, I thought it would be about a guy buying a stolen bike and getting a hand job… you know, one of the old Ibis mountain bikes.

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  • GlowBoy February 26, 2013 at 1:30 pm

    Bike theft is a plague upon us all. Count me among those disappointed to see the thief winding up with $55 in his pocket.

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    • Alan 1.0 February 26, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      I have not seen anyone here, not even Esther herself, advocate that simply paying money to someone in order to steal a bike was a desirable action.

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  • dwainedibbly February 26, 2013 at 1:57 pm

    Glad the bike got home. Not glad that the thief got away without some “u-lock therapy”.

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  • JNE February 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    Last “PSA” and I’m done with this thread:

    Oregon Revised Statutes 164.095 — Theft by receiving.
    (1) A person commits theft by receiving if the person receives, retains, conceals or disposes of property of another knowing or having good reason to know that the property was the subject of theft.
    (2) [exceptions for purchase and sale of scrap metal]
    (3) β€œReceiving” means acquiring possession, control or title, or lending on the security of the property.

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    • Chris I February 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      You should call the DA and see if he will prosecute…

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    • Alan 1.0 February 26, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      How likely do you find it that Jennifer will be willing to press charges under the present circumstances?

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    • Esther February 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      You mean my future husband is a larcenous thief? YESSSSSSSS!!! I hope he steals lots of stuff for me. and that people give him a lot of money for it!!! I’ll never have to work again.

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    • JRB February 26, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      I think it strange that you would suggest that someone has committed a crime by recovering someone else’s stolen property. By definition a crime is an act coupled with a criminal mental state. Absent an intent on Timo’s part to keep or otherwise profit from the stolen bike, the mere fact that he acquired stolen property is not a crime. I think all involved in seeing the bike returned to the owner are to be applauded.

      As to the other subject that has generated many comments, without knowing the circumstances that prompted that thief to steal the bike in the first place, I wouldn’t be as quick a Esther to extend him my compassion. OTOH, while her compassion could be misplaced, at least she errs on the side of forgiveness. It would probably be a better world if our first inclination was to forgive and not condemn.

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    • Chucklehead February 28, 2013 at 11:22 am

      If the intent of the buyer was to return the bike, they never owned or controlled it.

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  • stephry February 26, 2013 at 4:31 pm

    Go Timo – I like that quick thinking and clever approach. Moreover, I’m impressed with your bargaining skills!

    Jonathon – would you please allow me to say that many of the people on here are have lost their mind. I can’t believe how such a good effort in general kindness has sparked so many ridiculous responses.

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    • L February 26, 2013 at 5:31 pm


      What a bunch of Poindexters.

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    • Esther February 26, 2013 at 5:44 pm

      This has been entertaining me all day! People have effectively accused both Timo or me of promoting an anarchic, criminal welfare state, profiling poor people and denying them the right of having a nice bike, being pisspoor vigilantes for failing to set up a police sting and/or beating the dude with a u-lock, and Timo actually being a thief himself for receiving stolen goods. Keep ’em coming, folks!!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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      • Ben February 27, 2013 at 6:07 am

        Keep Portland Weird, right?!

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      • Sbrock February 27, 2013 at 3:32 pm

        I love you and Timo.

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  • JNE February 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Okay call me a troll today, but:

    1 — For the victim of this particular theft, this a great story, and I do appreciate and admire the efforts of those who went out of their way to help restore a bicycle to its owner.

    2 — With all due respect, several commenters, including myself obviously, have raised the question of whether buying likely-stolen bikes — even with the best of intentions — might do some harm to the community in general, by encouraging bike thieves to steal more bikes.

    3 — I personally understand how the rescuers did what they did in this story, but the story does raise a great ethical question. Certainly, this act of kindness benefitted a single bike owner, but isn’t it possible that it encouraged at least one thief to steal more bikes, thereby potentially harming other bike owners?

    4 — The nagging question, which I think is quite reasonable, is whether a single act of kindness might do more harm than good in the long term, even as it clearly did benefit one crime victim in the short term.

    5 — I think it’s worth considering the ethical dilemma here, even as many of the commenters here so passionately refuse to see it.

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    • 9watts February 26, 2013 at 9:15 pm

      “whether a single act of kindness might do more harm than good in the long term”

      I hear what you are saying, but I think you are misplaced. You are speculating about what is going on in the mind of the person who presumably stole and then sold the bike for $55. Personally I have no idea how someone who steals bikes thinks, what makes him tick, whether $55 makes as much of a motivational difference as you seem to think. In the grand scheme of things our ignorance of the inner workings of his or any other bike thief’s mind probably limits the usefulness of this discussion. We already know from articles linked to here on bikeportland that bike theft apparently is fairly easy to get away with. We can speculate why that is, and that could be useful, but in the meantime Timo et al. repatriated a bike for a paltry sum (my opinion). Does his ‘purchase’ of this bike increase the lucrative nature of bike theft, incentivize it more than it already was? Who knows?

      Let’s continue to speculate that he (presumed thief) sold it to someone else; someone less perspicacious and good at bargaining. That buyer might not have suspected it was stolen and might have handed him his asking price and figured he got a good deal. Now who’s incentivizing more bike thievery?

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    • wsbob February 27, 2013 at 10:53 am

      JNE…I’d be interested in reading your ideas about what someone that had done what Timo did up until the point he handed over the money for the drastically reduced price: approx $1000 retail, hustled on the street asking price $250, final markdown $55…should be advised to do instead of paying the seller that extraordinarily low price for a bike of unmistakably good quality.

      Could have maybe called the police, in some stretch of the imagination, even somehow possibly getting them to arrive to question the seller before he decided to move on. I wonder if the police really would have been able and willing to do such a thing without some fairly cold hard evidence the seller may have been involved in theft.

      Ethics are always important consider. People should want not to aid and abet theft. The people that paid out $55 for this bike don’t seem to have done so to encourage the seller to supply more bikes that the buyer could for example, flip and make money, or build up a personal bike collection. Their interest was recovery to the original owner, and possibly, prevention of the bike from proceeding on to a criminal, for example…one that would strip and part out the bike, craigslist, ebay, etc.

      If this $55 deal had not been successfully made, with buyer and friends drawing on their ethics in a way that led them to expend their effort in getting the bike back…to the person that is most likely the bike’s original owner…it’s very possible the original owner would never have recovered the bike.

      In this particular sell/buy exchange, it seems to me the buyers’ ethics were strong.

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    • Paul in the 'couve February 27, 2013 at 11:41 am

      The problem is that unless you can get the police to detain him immediately and confiscate the bicycle, buying the bike is the only legal way of recovering the bicycle. In a situation like Timo confronted, doing nothing means that probably the thief will get money or drugs for the bike from somebody. The bike is going to end up in the garage of a new owner (unwitting or culpable) or for less spendy bikes abandoned somewhere.

      I would not recommend a program of sending people out into the streets with $100 or so to buy up stolen bikes. That would certainly simply add to the cycle and thieves and drug addicts would come to rely on it as a source of cash. On the other hand I wouldn’t pass up the chance to recover someone’s beloved bike if I was in Timo’s circumstance.

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  • Vance Longwell February 27, 2013 at 7:02 am

    Yeah, and our would-be cops took possession of stolen goods. A felony. Should have been minding their own business. What proof does this chick have, that it’s even her bike?

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    • Paul in the 'couve February 27, 2013 at 11:35 am

      I am fully confident that a Jury (not to mention a Judge or a Prosecutor) is fully capable of recognizing the distinction between RECOVERING stolen property and RECIEVING stolen property.

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    • Sbrock February 27, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      Maybe the above photo of the owner standing next to her bike?

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    • q`Tzal February 27, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Should have been minding their own business.
      Is that opinion indicative of a political world view that says we should do what ever the government says without question?
      I always pegged you as a “don’t trust the government to do anything right, on time or under budget.” kidna guy.

      It is obvious that the police, everywhere, don’t care about bicycle crimes.
      In the absence of the Rule of Law all societies revert to the Rule of Force; even insular subgroups inside of larger orderly groups.

      As long as we aren’t going to enforce this law I say we pass a new law:
      “any law that doesn’t get enforced for X amount of years is automatically revoked. “

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      • Alan 1.0 February 27, 2013 at 5:32 pm

        “any law that doesn’t get enforced for X amount of years is automatically revoked. “

        I can see the attraction. My Dad proposed that for each new law that goes on the books, two old ones must be removed. I’m not sure either one would actually work in reality but I like the principle.

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        • q`Tzal February 27, 2013 at 11:00 pm

          I’m crazy like that; I’ve always thought it was cheating to jail Al Capone on tax evasion and not the actual racketeering and murder type charges he would actually be guilty of.
          Doing it the current way encourages laws against everything with sentencing ranges so broad as to enable a court to permanently imprison the Unibomber simply on unpaid parking tickets.

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  • anon March 2, 2013 at 12:02 pm

    I’m glad it worked out, but this is not a good idea. Buying stolen property is a felony, and it’s not a good idea for a person to do a “sting operation” with stolen property that doesn’t belong to them. Plus, this just furthers the market for stolen bikes. Police can’t do anything if they’re never called.

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