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I just stopped a theft in progress

Posted by on October 14th, 2015 at 1:37 pm

IMG_7469

The bike, with light tucked under the bars
for safe(r) keeping.

It started with a gut feeling and ended with a guy riding away shaking his head after his failed attempt to steal a light off someone’s bike.

A few minutes ago I was walking on SW Oak Street between 5th and 4th on my way to the post office with two big boxes in my hands (mailing out posters to our 100 first subscribers!) when I saw a guy riding toward me. The first thing that caught my eye was that he was biking on the sidewalk. I also noticed he had an old bag slung over his shoulders. I have spidey senses for everyone on a bike downtown. I notice them all. It’s what I do. This guy in particular set off signals in my head not only because he was riding on the sidewalk but his head was on a swivel as he seemed to be checking out parked bikes.

He could have just been a generally bike-curious dude like I am. Or he could have been a thief. It was just a hunch; but a hunch that comes from years of covering bike theft and seeing how this stuff goes down. As we both came closer to a nice new Kona cyclocross bike I thought to myself: If he stares at it and then stops, gets off his bike and approaches it, I’m going to watch him closely.

And sure enough, that’s what he did.

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He passed up the Kona, got off his own bike, then walked back toward the Kona. At this point I had turned around and was watching him. Then he proceeded to grab the front light that was clamped to the handlebars and started to wiggle it free. At that point I took a risk and yelled at him. “Hey man, is that your light?! Are you stealing that light?”

At the same time, another guy who was walking by noticed what was going on. He walked right up to the thief and sort of blocked him from running away. The thief quickly started shaking his head and muttered some unintelligible words. A few seconds later he had dropped the light on the ground, made his way back to his bike and pedaled away. The guy who assisted me then walked up to a nearby security guard (who was on a bike) and gave him a description of the thief. (He gave chase, but I didn’t stick around to see if anything came of it.)

“Thanks for stepping up,” I said to the guy. “I’m glad you said something. And I’m glad I wasn’t the only one,” he replied.

If you parked a blue and white Kona outside 421 SW Oak today, please be aware that you nearly had your nice Light & Motion front light stolen. I twisted it down so it’s under your bars and not as easy for prying eyes to see. In the future I would strongly recommend that you do not leave anything valuable on your bike. Ever.

Bike prowls are very common in Portland. Over the years I’ve lost several saddles, a seatpost, several sets of lights (including a dynamo light which required the thief to cut wires to get it free), a frame bag, and so on and so on. I would love to see more done to prevent this very annoying crime. More secure bike parking would be a start. Perhaps signs that say: Do not leave valuables attached to your bicycle (the City already has signs in auto parking areas that say essentially the same thing).

I can’t recall ever being so close to a theft in-progress. And it happened in broad daylight on a very busy sidewalk in downtown Portland.

UPDATE, 10/15 at 1:37pm: Just heard from the owner of the bike via email:

“I normally park in a secured parking location at my office, but I was leading a workshop yesterday at the building I parked in front of. I do try to remember to take my light with me, but I do forget sometimes, especially once its daylight. I’ve lost a few lights over the years, which is so annoying and potentially dangerous if you need to get home in the dark.

THANK YOU many times over for saving my bike light. Its so nice to know there are people out there watching out for each other. It really was over the top and I appreciate it. Do you happen to know the name of the other guy in the article you wrote? I’d like to thank him as well.

I’m Truly grateful and I promise to try to remember to take it off the handle bars next time. :)”

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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eddieG. A. R.sorenJonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)Dead Salmon Recent comment authors
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Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Thanks for stepping up and stepping in!

9watts
Subscriber

Brazen rascal! We would all do well to pay attention more.
Jane Jacobs’ ‘eyes on the street’ are no less important today than in 1961.

Endo
Guest
Endo

I hate to say it, but you really didn’t do much. That guy needed to be detained, arrested, and sent to jail for a long, long time. As it is that guy is out there right now looking for other bikes to steal. And will continue to do so until there are real penalties for dirtbags like this.

scott
Guest
scott

Jail. For a “long, long time”. For a $60 light. Damn man. Let’s just throw our tax money into a pit and burn it. It would sure save some time.

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

You mean follow standard procedure? The government has to heat its buildings somehow..

scott
Guest
scott

Standard on a $60 light if the owner is present is a ticket.

I don’t follow your meaning. Please explain.

Fraser
Guest
Fraser

My impression from previous posters is that far less offensive comments get filtered out of this site. Zimmerman is hinting at his/her thoughts of killing people (removing them from the gene pool), and that’s okay with the editors? Yikes.

bjorn
Guest
bjorn

Agreed, considering the markdown on stolen goods this guy probably has to steal thousands of dollars of stuff every month to keep up with his habits, but because he does it 50 dollars at a time he will never be punished, whereas if he was robbing a liquor store once a week he might net about the same amount of cash but he’d be much more likely to be punished if he was caught. I am not a big fan of jail time for minor offenses but we need some kind of deterrent for these folks.

eddie
Guest
eddie

There really is no deterrent that doesn’t address systemic change… we all just have to acknowledge that theft on all levels follows population surges and keep our stuff safe as possible. Sadly Portland is becoming the kind of place where you have to strip everything off your bike when you aren’t with it, just like New York.

But at least there aren’t crews going around in vans with angle grinders popping off U locks and stealing whole bikes in toto… yet…

Charley
Guest
Charley

That’s a great way to get beaten up or worse, Endo. I, for one, am glad Maus didn’t try to be a hero.

eddie
Guest
eddie

That’s completely ridiculous. You think locking people in jail actually solves the problem? You think long jail terms for minor crimes are a deterrent? They aren’t. Find me a documented correlation between imprisonment and crime on the streets of any sort and I’ll eat my words… but I know you and others who believe in the punitive model are just stone cold wrong.

Adam
Subscriber

As someone who had a nice Light and Motion light stolen off my bike, thanks for stepping in! Many people wouldn’t do anything for fear of being stabbed or something.

Champs
Guest
Champs

You really can’t leave anything of value, but people are absentminded. Just in recent memory, my girlfriend has lost two lights and a saddle bag.

On the other hand, I’ve very consciously left a pretty nice trunk bag, an Arkel Tailrider with the security of just four Velcro straps. It was rummaged through a couple years back, and finally stolen at Lloyd Center a few weeks ago. That thing was so old as to fade from black to ghostly grey, just like my memory of the year I bought it.

So… lights and bags without the necessary brackets: yep. Expensive touring gear: low priority. I really don’t know what the thieves want. Ants at a picnic, they are.

As an aside: I’m not into rattling locks, silly belts, or blowing out my back pockets. Anybody making some kind of QR racktop bag that’ll hold my U-lock, keys, a few tools, and a spare tube? Extra room for a chamois/towel and bungees a plus…

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

There’s a vagrant camp in Sullivan’s Gulch that I suspect is behind a lot of theft in the Lloyd area – I say this because I saw them walking around with bolt-cutters recently. A few weeks ago they hit the dozen racks at the Oregon Square block (across from the state offices) really hard. They stole at least one bike and picked the components (lights, bags, etc) off every single bike parked there.

Carter Kennedy
Guest
Carter Kennedy

While we are on the subject, I just saw a curiously non-locked bike at a New Seasons store. It was not new or expensive. It was attached to a staple not by a lock but by the helmet. The helmet straps were buckled around the bike and the staple. There was a cable with a gym padlock wrapped around the seatpost. I’m afraid that if the owner keeps that up, he or she will walk home one of these days even if it was not a valuable bike.

barb lin
Guest
barb lin

I think these might be bike thief bait. There have been some brightly colored bikes, cable locked, out on main streets not near any house in our neighborhood over the Summer. I think they were a thief trap.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

“Over the years I’ve lost several saddles, a seatpost”

Removing all quick-release screws and putting Shoe Goo in your allenwrench holes (http://imgur.com/a/cTdYl), reduces your risk of component theft to nearly nothing.

Tying strips of old bike tubes around your seat post will also deter thieves from making off with that.

Unfortunately there’s no cure for the naïveté for leaving on your removable bike lights while your bike is unattended.

Travis
Guest
Travis

Also for saddles: silicon gel and a ball bearing. I’ve also put hose clamps around my quick releases. I just had a saddle bag stolen a couple months ago, it’d be cool if there were some more secure ones that bolt to the seat post and have some kind of locking mechanism on it.

G. A. R.
Guest
G. A. R.

Where do you find silicone gel of the proper thickness? Brilliant!

Dead Salmon
Guest
Dead Salmon

If you rarely remove your light, you could wrap some wire around it that would be inconvenient to remove – but it might scratch your paint. Hose clamps as mentioned above would also work. Neither would be theft proof, but it would take long enough that they might not bother. Probably good enough for a 5 minute run into the store – most of the time.

I like those lights with the quick-release so the light slides off, but the clamp stays in place.

lyle w.
Guest
lyle w.

The problem is, it’s so easy to forget to detach your lights if you’re hopping into a grocery store, coffee shop, etc. and have other things on your mind, on top of being rushed, on top of being tired. I’ve done it many times, and luckily only paid for it once (with a set of cheap lights that I was already wanting to replace anyway).

But I wouldn’t always chalk it up to people being careless and negligent… it’s easy to simply space it out for that split second. And when it’s something you’re doing multiple times a day, it’s bound to happen.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Well done, JM! 🙂

One of the things I dislike the most about getting around on my bike in Portland is the hassle of needing to strip it of anything of value every time I lock up, then having to reattach/reassemble when I return. It can turn a simple errand into something not so simple (or quick or easy). I know it’s a small thing, but it’s just a drag. The problem with theft here has reached insane proportions.

Matt F
Guest
Matt F

Agreed! Was inside my apt for 10 minutes the other day, came out, and my lights were gone and my saddle pack with my tools. d@mn…that’s around $150 of stuff

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Agh–so sorry to hear that! 🙁

Dan F
Guest
Dan F

I wonder if this has an overall effect on people making decisions to make trips/run errands by bike? My current commuter has a nice saddle & some other decent components, and I am less inclined to leave it locked up at a rack downtown, or really almost anywhere in the central city. Luckily I have secure parking indoor at work.

I know that some would suggest riding a beater bike for downtown errands, but I’d rather not be maintaining a stable of bikes for different purposes/risk factors.

Alexis
Guest
Alexis

I feel the same. Not only does all the time spent removing and replacing lights add up, it also means more fiddly things I have to carry around with me when I bike somewhere. It definitely factors into whether or not I’ll choose to bike somewhere.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Cheap flashlights and duct tape and/or wear your big headlight on your helmet? (Legally, a compliant white light needs to be on the bike.) I understand there are trade-offs with complexity and weight of the bracket vs value of the light, but it doesn’t seem like there are many theft-resistant mounting options or errand-friendly designs.

Paul gross
Guest
Paul gross

Are people seriously complaining about the f’n time it takes to remove a couple lights and or a bag?
Sorry friends, crime in every city is bad-especially petty crime as this would fall under. People need to live on the East coast for a bit to appreciate Portland…

Alison Fulmer
Guest
Alison Fulmer

Not a small thing. A huge thing. Think if drivers had to remove the hubcaps every time they parked. The situation is out of control. A serious deterrent.

Paul gross
Guest
Paul gross

Ummm, you lock your door and don’t leave anything valuable in plain site-correct? People, wake up-you live in a city that is rapidly growing…”crime” here is tame. You want safe, move to Eastern Oregon…small towns. It amazes me a person would leave a decent light on their bike and be shocked its gone. Would you set a tablet or phone out and hope it stays put?

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

You know, it’s gotten bad here. It really has. There’s nothing wrong with complaining about a situation that’s, at the very least, changed so drastically from what it once very recently was here in Portland.

I lived just outside NYC for a relatively short time (4 yrs) and worked in the city frequently, just pre-Giuliani. Those were supposed to be the dangerous years and I remember having to go to night rehearsals in the not-yet-shiny Bowery/East Village area and being approached–if arriving in a car–by the cone guys (“we’ll protect your car while you’re gone”–the threat implicit that if you didn’t fork some money over, your car would be ‘unprotected’ i.e. pummeled, by them). There were the squeegee guys, too. But I didn’t feel the way I do in Portland now. Squeegee guys and cone guys seem quaint and rather benign by comparison w/ Portland’s recent crop of travelers, etc. The hassles of living here in Portland at this point (can I call it the nadir? I hope it can’t get worse though I fear it can) outweigh any hassles I experienced in NYC, back then, even regularly frequenting “bad” areas.

San Francisco is another story–I’ve felt in real danger there several times–most memorably when a mentally ill guy got off the bus in an isolated area with me and my husband and pulled a knife. Whee. But I feel San Francisco is much closer to what I feel is happening and has happened already in Portland. Sketchy, pushy traveler dudes omnipresent, feeling ownership and claiming territory. Places that very recently were considered safe are not considered safe anymore by many, and with good reason (Eastbank Esplanade, Springwater Corridor, many Portland parks).

And that’s worth complaining about, in my opinion. Along with having to cross your fingers your bike won’t get stolen in spite of it being locked with 2 u-locks and stripped of valuables and its seat and parked in a secure place or even in your own garage or house. That’s worth complaining about, yes.

Mike
Guest
Mike

“…complaining about a situation that’s, at the very least, changed so drastically from what it once very recently was here in Portland.”

Changed in what way? Theft hasn’t increased or decreased drastically – at least no more so than the increase of population.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Hi Mike. Yes–the increased population and all that’s come with it. I would characterize it as drastic change, as someone who is from here and has lived here my whole life (but for those years I mentioned). That’s how it feels to me and apparently many others. May feel different to you.

Mark
Guest
Mark

I work in 421 SW Oak. Fortunately, we’ve got secure bike parking inside. Even inside the building I would not leave a light attached!

Spiffy
Subscriber

I often wish I could take the person’s light and leave a note with my contact info so they can recover it… but I worry I might leave the area before they do and then we can’t connect before they need it…

but I do turn off people’s lights when they leave them on so that they don’t attract attention…

daisy
Guest
daisy

I would be so angry if you “helped” me like this.

Gary
Guest
Gary

Yeah, I almost always leave my light on. Most of these comments are calling me naïve. That’s not it at all–I made a conscious decision that the value of my light (not much) and the risk of it being stolen (depends on the area and time) lead me to favor taking the chance. So far I haven’t had a light stolen. When I do, it’s the chance I took.

Please stop a theft in progress, I’ll do the same for you, but I don’t need a note or anything.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

Maybe the parking enforcement / police could collect such things and you could get them back for $5?

ac
Guest
ac

that sort of theft was my welcome to street level bike parking when i first arrived in portland in 2001

sigh…good times
good to hear that things never change

Jonathan Radmacher
Guest
Jonathan Radmacher

You just always want to be careful not to (1) accuse someone of a crime out loud, or (2) physically detain them. Greg Kafoury might be watching with a lawsuit, ready to fill in your name (well, if you’re a grocer).

Mixtieme
Guest
Mixtieme

True. Kill them with kindness is what I do at work. Hey there, I have the key to unlock that GoPro if you want a closer look. No need to struggle with those pliers. What specific questions do you have on the GoPro? No, we don’t have the Session model in stock. What adventures are you filming. Oh, well let me walk with ya to the door. The weather is great huh? Enjoying this fall sunshine? Have a great day! Then I dial my boss, post a snap shot in the break room and voila. Friendly confrontation, active engagement, awareness. Thieves rarely return after such an encounter.

Dead Salmon
Guest
Dead Salmon

Very true. If you detain a “protected-status person” you might end up with a hate-crime charge against you. Like the teacher did in Texas when the student brought a hoax bomb to class and they reported it to the police.

Nathan Hinkle (The Bike Light Database & NearlyKilled.Me)
Guest

Yikes! Good catch. Those Urban headlights are super easy to remove from the bike – which is good if you remember to, but makes them easier to steal too. Thefts like this are why ease of removal is an important factor I consider when reviewing lights. If it’s too hard to take the light off and put it back on quickly, eventually you’ll leave it and it’ll disappear! Also another reason I’m not a fan of those generic Chinese lights with the external battery pack… too hard to disentangle everything every time you lock up.

It’s too bad this is all necessary, the thieves are quick. I once left my bike out overnight on the OSU campus (locked with a U-lock and cable, but in a dark area) and had my whole seat and post stolen. I’ve fortunately never lost anything more valuable… Knock on wood!

Beth
Guest

Stopping a theft in progress is fraught with risk. While Jonathan felt comfortable enough to do so, this is not the right hing for everyone. Please be sure of your capabities — including self-defense should things turn ugly — and the size and alertness of the suspected thief, and potential other witnesses/helpers before stepping in. It’s good to look out for fellow bicyclists, but be careful if you do.

Dead Salmon
Guest
Dead Salmon

Agree with that caution for sure. I would not do it unless I had mace or something on me just in case.

In this case, it might have been better to let the thief steal the light, then immediately call the police with a description while following them and relaying their location – might engage the thief in a friendly conversation before he leaves to delay his departure – say “Hey, I used to have a bike just like yours, except it was green – how do you like that one?” How long would it take for the cops to get there? Probably a while I guess for a bike theft crime – maybe it would not work.

Another tactic: set up some stings in town – get some cameras that can be pointed toward good theft targets – have the police in on it so they understand that when you call you want them to get there NOW! The cameras will be evidence. Best if the thief does not know which home the camera and witnesses were located in so they can’t come back for revenge. In fact, it would be good if the police did it themselves and not have cyclists doing it, but if many people can do it across town, it will not be long before the word gets out: steal a bike, go to jail.

Beaker
Guest
Beaker

So where do the stolen lights and repair kits go? Who’s buying them? I’ve had two bags and 3 lights stolen over the years, it’s just frustrating and really unsafe.

lyle w.
Guest
lyle w.

Ebay, trading with another tweaker for a pair of socks, craigslist, pawn shops, lowball offers on the Esplanade. Take your pick.

Mark
Guest
Mark

I would pepper spray any thief in the face.

David Lewis
Guest

I laugh every time I hear about Portland being bicycle-friendly. Stories like Jonathan’s are par for the course in this town, and it’s part of the danger of resting on one’s laurels. Portland is one of the worst cycling cities I’ve ever lived in!

If I can remember right, spitting on the sidewalk in some parts of the world is punished severely enough that when Americans are caught doing it the nation collectively gawks at the punishment. But then we have laws that stop the police from doing anything if the officers themselves did not witness the crime, and so theft, vandalism and other affronts to polite society are ignored. And then we wonder why people move to the suburbs.

Homelessness itself is not a crime, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that people need to eat and they’ll do what it takes. Just like putting diverters on Clinton St doesn’t solve bad traffic engineering elsewhere that brought the cars to Clinton St, going after thieves does not end homelessness. The root of the problem is bad government, and that problem is nationwide and never going away.

soren
Subscriber

“Portland is one of the worst cycling cities I’ve ever lived in!”

How many cities have you lived in?

Leslie
Guest
Leslie

A few years ago, I rode my bike to the Hollywood Fred Meyer’s. I locked it up with my U-Lock and started towards the entrance of the store. Something didn’t feel right and suddenly I realized I did not take my detachable front and rear lights. I turned and swiftly walked/ran back to my bike and discovered my lights were gone. There was a guy right next to my bike, with his bike, and I asked him if he had seen anyone around my bike. He said he had not and of course I told him that I just locked up my bike, etc., and he sort of nervously told me that he felt anything left on a bike, like lights, were “fair game”… his words. That is how quickly these wonderful people work. I had a few choice words for him and anyone around at the time. Some people really suck.

Brock
Guest
Brock

Agree that the theft of lights and tool bags is annoying and dangerous depending on the time of day. That said, I too am guilty of not stripping my bike every time I lock it up. What is life without taking a little risk now and then.

I do have a Paul light mount which attaches to the front fender mount eyelet. I like the way it puts the light in front of my tires but also is not a place your run of the mill idiot thief may see at first glance. Since I have had it, my Light and Motion has been safely left many times. I know it is likely a matter of time but still something to consider…if you wish.

http://paulcomp.com/shop/components/gino-light-mount/

Mike Quiglery
Guest
Mike Quiglery

It would be interesting to know the stats on how much of this stolen bike stuff is bought (no questions asked) by the same folks who complain about bike theft.

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

I just stopped a theft in progress


I did too :^) OK, not “just” — it was on Saturday.

At around 11pm while I was watching TV, I saw him through the window of my darkened living room . He was creeping around my porch and peering over the side of it from the yard. The porch light was on, and he was checking out the prospects. Then he walked around the yard and onto the porch and started examining how my Yuba Mundo was locked up (it’s U-locked to a rusty old tandem bike).

I came to the door and hollered at him, “oh no you don’t!” From his crouching position, he bounded up and ran off, such as he could — his running was very slow and looked quite difficult. Kind of a sorry sight, really.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Maus,

I am thinking that now that you have a donation system set up, you also have a way to crowd source for certain projects…like a bait bike and surveillance method.

If you could show that the stolen bike ended up in a homeless camp or drug house, the police would have probably cause to go there.

Ed
Guest
Ed

Thieves like the one Jonathan deterred must be selling the stuff they snag somehow, even if not for much, to make the theft worth their while. How? Cutting off the market would be the only way to significantly reduce the number of thefts.

Dead Salmon
Guest
Dead Salmon

If anyone knows of a good surveillance camera that can be located indoors to view and record activity outside thru the window let us know. Preferred features:
0) Must focus thru windows (bonus if can also be located outdoors)
1) 1 week continuous recording time minimum
2) Automatic overwrite after recording time is used up
3) Low light capability (no infrared red glowing lights to give away the camera location) – just turn on porch lights, etc to provide enough light
4) Wireless camera and receiver/recorder that will transmit thru several walls/ceilings/floors (wire for power is OK – preferably plug-in type, not hard-wired)
5) Recorder can be remotely located so if the camera is found and stolen, you still have the recording
6) Setting so that if you use it for interior security, it can call any phone number and alert you of motion indoors
7) Multiple channels/cameras to cover multiple areas
8) User friendly, easy set-up

Invent this, make the price affordable for the masses, put it on the market, and start raking in those obscene profits thru our evil, racist, capitalist system and then use those obscene profits to help the poor – just like Bill Gates does. And if you want you can buy yourself some nice goodies as a reward for your evil capitalist hard work.

🙂

Dead Salmon
Guest
Dead Salmon

One more feature:
9) External antenna for the receiver recorder so the receiver/recorder can be inside of a safe with the antenna wire snaking out where it will receive a signal. Thus, receiver/recorder should not put out a lot of heat, and should withstand the resulting temperatures due to being enclosed in a safe.