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Guest article: A stolen bike that took nine months to recover

Posted by on October 20th, 2015 at 3:39 pm

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Kyle Gunsul’s stolen Kuota.

This article was submitted by Bryan Hance of Bike Index. It originally appeared on his blog at BikeIndex.org.

The theft

Just over nine months ago, someone broke into Kyle Gunsul’s house and stole his bike.

They did a good job, too. Portland locals might remember Kyle’s post to the local racing listserv detailing his burglary:

“… (the burglar) removed the porch light, broke a locked gate, came through a window, busted down two security cameras and busted through another gate. They ONLY took the bike. They were feet away from my living room with computer and stereos but they knew what they were coming for. Was definitely cased.”

In addition to registering with Bike Index, Kyle got the word out. Photos of his stolen Kuota Kharma made the rounds on Nextdoor, Twitter, Facebook, and the usual local bike email lists. After that, though, Kyle’s bike did what most stolen bikes do – it disappeared.

Until July.

The spotter

There are some unsung heros most people don’t know about: people who spot stolen bikes for sale online using Bike Index’s stolen bike listings. These people spot stolen bikes, alert the owners through Bike Index, and then we work with the victims on the chase and recovery.

“I’m motivated by the mix of emotions I felt when those were stolen from me.”
— A stolen bike spotter

These ‘spotters’ are a varied group: Some buy and sell for themselves and simply don’t want to buy stolen bikes. Some are bike theft victims just keeping an eye out for the community. Others just know how to spot a sketchy sale — my inbox overflows with emails that begin with, “There’s no way this is legit – can you guys look into this?”

These people constantly pull needles out of haystacks. Their ability to cross-reference thousands of stolen bikes against the thousands of listings they see online is a testament to the power of “the human search engine”.

Some are extremely adept at this — the spotter who found Kyle’s Kuota has ID’d and helped returned over a dozen bikes through Bike Index. He’s the same spotter who just ID’d two stolen Terns that Portland Police helped return last Wednesday. He’s got the knack for it.

As someone who’s been chasing bike thieves for ten years, I’m always interested in what motivates people to do work like this. Here’s how one of them describes it:

“I’ve had several bikes stolen from me, two of them from Portland from my backyard so I’m motivated by the mix of emotions I felt when those were stolen from me. The righting of a wrong, trying to fix the injustice of having someone stealing things that doesn’t belong to them. The feeling of loss when you lose something that you depend on more than you realize… And really ugly stories of thieves stealing from kids or old people get me extremely motivated to help out.”

The spot

large_KUOTA_002-2

Listed for sale by the thief at OfferUp.com.

On July 13th, this spotter flagged a bike sale on Offerup.com. In looking through the sellers’ items — power tools, watches, clothes — the black carbon fiber bike for sale stood out. It was Kyle’s Kuota, propped up against the wall of a storage unit.

Chasing stolen bikes online is hard. The sellers stay anonymous, there’s a huge number of outlets for them to sell, and there’s little support for victims. Every day I deal with people who find their stolen goods for sale online, and it’s tiring. The burden is completely and totally on the victim in situations like this, so I’ll jst summarize by saying this: chasing your own stolen bike online sucks.

We sent Kyle the standard “I just found my stolen bike for sale online, now what?” instructions: Call the police, now. Get a fake email and burner phone number. Start monitoring the seller. They’re on our watchlist now, so we’ll see if they add more bikes, but call whatever police department you filed your burglary with. Specifically mention the bike was taken in a home burglary.

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The chase

At this point, most victims are stuck unless they can get police to help. Kyle had the right combination, though: a burglary, a unique and well documented bike that was up for resale in the same city as the theft. All these details meant Kyle had a better chance of getting police to look into the listing.

“I had the ad as one of the tabs in my browser. I’d refresh it every day to see if it disappeared.”
— Kyle Gunsul, theft victim

Kyle called Portland Police, who sent an officer out. Soon after that, Kyle heard from burglary detectives, who took it up from there.

And then… months passed. Justice, as they say, grinds slow. Every few weeks, Kyle and I would touch base. We were both watching the seller’s items come and go, both hoping the bike’s ad stayed online.

“I had the ad as one of the tabs in my browser,” Kyle said, “I’d refresh it every day to see if it disappeared. As the weeks went by, everyone I told about it said I should just set up a buy and take it back before it gets sold. But I held out confidence that the police were working on it.”

And they were. Without getting into the details (the criminal case is just now wending its way to court now) the seller was evasive. At one point, the ad for Kyle’s bike disappeared completely.

Weeks later though, the very same spotter who found Kyle’s bike the first time flagged a totally different seller with Kyle’s Kuota for sale. They were even using the same photograph.

The chase resumed.

The recovery

large_RECOVERED

Safe and sound.

One week ago, Kyle emailed with a flurry of new activity from police. And on Monday, a voicemail: “I’ve got some good news for you.” Police had recovered his bike after serving a warrant!

Kyle texted me a photo (shown here) when he picked it up from the police warehouse – and it came back more or less as it was stolen: “It’s in great shape,” Kyle says of his recovered Kuota, “I don’t even think they rode it.”

Five more bikes were found, three of which had been reported as stolen.

As I emailed Kyle over the next few days, details trickled out from Kyle and one of the detectives about what they found — many, many stolen items, several of which they had specifically linked to other related crimes the police correlated while looking into Kyle’s burglary.

Five more bikes were found, three of which (at time of publication) had been reported as stolen. The detective I spoke to told me they have linked him to eight other burglaries so far — and they aren’t even done cataloging everything they’ve seized.

Unsurprisingly, the man police arrested has a lot of previous arrests: Burglary 1. Burglary 2. Methamphetamine possession. Felon in possession of a weapon. Possession of burglary tools. Parole violations. Theft by receiving. You get the idea.

So, sadly, Kyle’s not done with this experience yet – there’s a jury appearance in his future. But knowing that a simple stolen bike chase snowballed into something much larger — something that is likely going to remove a serial burglar from police society for a couple of years — it seems worth it.

Closing thoughts

There’s been a lot of talk in Portland about how we can help fight bike theft. Kyle’s story, to me, is a blueprint for how this works: the community can handle registration and vigilance, Bike Index provides tools and tech, and police provide the enforcement. But it’s all fledgling. We need ten times more effort.

I asked Kyle what he thinks the bike community can to do help the problem:

“As a community we need to assist ‘investigators’ (cops, Bike Index, and other bikers) as much as possible. Register your bike. Take out your phone and shoot photos of your bike. Take a photo of the serial number. Take a photo of scratches or any unique details. Get some new accessories? Take more photos, they can be incredibly helpful in getting your bike back.”

I asked Kyle about the long drawn out process of watching the police chase his bike.

“I think the police are doing the best with what they have. Again ‘the people’ decide how much power the police will have in our democracy and how well funded we want them to be. I think we get what we pay for. The officer that responded to the report you sent me about it being for sale online came by during two shootings in the same day. His radio did not stop with updates – and here I was worried about my bike.”

Lastly, I asked Kyle about the thieves actions – i.e., listing such a unique bike for sale only months after it was stolen.

“If you remember when I first posted about it being stolen I didn’t want to post it on Bike Index because I was positive any self-respecting person that went through the trouble of breaking into a house to steal it would surely monitor Bike Index to see if it’s safe to be sold online. I watched the sites myself for a while trying to find it before finally posting it (on Bike Index). That was foolish. These guys are not criminal masterminds.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

We’ll continue to watch the criminal case as it plays out over the next several months, to learn more about the fate of the arrested individual.

For now though, I’m just hoping I’ll run into Kyle on his Kuota on the road — perhaps we can take a victory lap together.

– Bryan Hance, bryan@bikeindex.org

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tedder
Guest

If you record the serial number of your bikes, you’re ahead of a huge percentage of stolen reports that I’ve seen. (Mr. Hance can probably tell me if this is right)

If you don’t have your serial, and all you have is “it’s a Trek with a PSU sticker in a specific place”, you’re SOL. All the thief needs to say is “hey, I put that sticker here”.

I assume this is why the hobo chop shops are grinding the serials off- it removes any chance of police seizure/recovery.

John Lascurettes
Subscriber

Regarding grinding off the S/N from the bottom bracket: Yes, S/N is the first step. I also record most of the major component serial numbers or other identifying marks too (e.g. IGH). When I first bought my latest bike I took all these photos along with a picture of the receipt next to the bottom bracket’s S/N. These photos are at home, in the cloud, and on my phone.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

On many newer bikes the serial numbers aren’t even permanently stamped in the frame, it’s just a sticker.

David
Guest
David

As someone who’s always keeping an eye out for bikes that look like they might be stolen around town. What should I do if I see one somewhere, then find on the Bike Index or 529 Project it’s been stolen? Is there anything beyond letting the owner know where I saw it that would be helpful?

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

I’m one of those who “haven’t had a bike stolen yet”, but I just wanted to weigh in with my thanks for a really excellent, thorough report (and a great story!).

Yes, my bike (after a scare) is registered, with photos. I’d be bereft if it were stolen!

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

There seems to be a role for Sharia Law here. Very few bike thieves could keep active after losing a hand or two.

Okay, that’s over the top, but it’s hard to not feel that way when friends lose their only means of transportation to someone who “needs” more meth.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

I’m ok with a permanent tattoo on their forehead a-la The Scarlet Letter.

This could work with lots of crimes: once you know someone is a con-artist at a single glance there is no reason to waste taxpayer money housing them in jail to educate other criminald.
A reformed heroin addict may be the best person to do blood draws at the medical lab: they never miss a vein.

Mark
Guest
Mark

I have a cheap bike and honestly don’t care if it’s stolen. That said, if I had an expensive bike…I would have renters or home owners that covered the bike. Then scourge of petty theft and felony theft will continue until our society truly taken care of our vulnerable and poor.

Lester Burnham
Guest
Lester Burnham

I guess paying for a $40 million homeless facility downtown is not enough?

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

To not adequately secure a “cheap” bike only serves to enable the theft economy. Likewise, to blame society for criminal activity denies that individuals have responsibility and choice over their behaviors. I will concede that life’s safety net is thin and fragile. I would have more sympathy for criminals if they were stealing bread rather than stealing anything they could sell for drugs.
FWIW, the article to which this is a response is about bike theft and recovery, not the homeless issue.

mark
Guest
mark

Why do we judge that it’s better to steal a staple vs drugs? Not sure the difference here other than food is freely handed out by charities. “law abiding” people take alcohol (a drug) and cannabis (a drug). So…why is it less honorable to steal for something many of us crave?

The underlying issue is that this theft crosses a real line. This was not a crime of opportunity, this was a crime that involved planning. That’s a bit scary.

Mike Reams
Guest
Mike Reams

These crimes are not being perpetrated by the vulnerable and poor. This is not some Dickensian waif stealing a loaf of bread to feed her starving siblings. These crimes are committed by people who have chosen to be a part of a criminal enterprise rather than try to be productive participants in our society. And yes, stealing something to sell for money is an enterprise.

Mark
Guest
Mark

This view will only lead to more failure dealing with crime. People behave badly when their basic needs are not met. Why is there no real crime in the rich suburbs?

not that Mark
Guest
not that Mark

One reason is that there is more to steal in an urban environment. Another is that the suburbs are generally more conservative and are less tolerant of their bad behavior.

It’s no longer just stealing bikes with bad locks parked in the open and car prowling. They are stealing bikes out of people’s houses and also going onto front porches and stealing packages. And chopping them out in the open. And as others have noted, it’s for drugs, not food and rent. It is getting worse.

And some people just behave badly.

davemess
Guest
davemess

By this logic there would be no white collar crime.
Some people do immoral, illegal things regardless of their circumstance.

Kyle Gunsul
Guest
Kyle Gunsul

So..
1. It’s my own fault because I bought a nice bike.

2. It’s my own fault because my insurance deductible was not zero.

3. It’s my own fault because I don’t take care of the poor.

I hope you realize if you’re truly interested in helping the poor comments like this are hurting the cause more than they are helping. I’m literally going to boycott Street Root for the next TWO editions. Way to go Mark..

mark
Guest
mark

So, you are going to intend some sort of harm to street roots because of my comments?

Ok, that’s your right.

Individual fault and society responsibility are two different things. If you choose to not insure yourself against theft, and ride a nice bike in and around the metro area…that’s fine. Just accept the worst possible outcomes that comes with the fact that little is done to effectively deal with poverty. People call it “homelessness” because that makes people feel better. It’s poverty.

What solves poverty? A minimum income. That’s it.

It’s been done. Without minimum income, there is no real hope for those that are in need and create a market for theft.

If folks want to make this about “blame the victim”, that’s fine. Still won’t solve the problem.

Rounding up and locking people in cages isn’t going to solve it either.

estherc
Guest
estherc

These people put quite a bit of effort into their criminal enterprise, casing houses, renting storage units for their loot, listing on line, etc, If they put that much effort into a legal business they might get somewhere without negatively impacting other people’s lives and wellbeing. This is not someone stealing a loaf of bread to feed their hungry children.

This is people intentionally choosing to ignore the rights of others for their own personal gain.

Mark
Guest
Mark

That’s a start.

KristenT
Guest
KristenT

Great story with a lot of good information. I know my bikes have some scratches and identifying marks, I need to take photos of them and put them on a jump drive to keep in a safe place along with my paperwork from when I bought them.

Audrey
Guest
Audrey

I’ve had 5 bikes stolen in the 8 years I’ve lived in Portland. This is just out of control! Two were recovered, a feat that was written about here.

The first two were cable-locked in a locked storage area in a locked apartment parking structure. The next three were taken more similar to Kyle, my home was obviously cased, the burglars kicked a door in to take the bikes from my garage in the middle of the night.

Bike thieves suck.