I moved last month to a new home in the Portland suburbs, one that was a 10 minute bike ride away from work. Our new house is definitely on the small side but it has a one-car garage, which I was organizing on Friday night.
To make room for organizing, I moved our bikes out of the garage to the side of the house and started unpacking boxes. My wife came home at around 7:30p, and I decided to call it a night and closed the garage door, forgetting that the bikes were still at the side of the house.
Two TV shows later, I remember the bikes are still outside and need to come in. My wife’s bike is there, but mine is nowhere to be seen. They’ve been outside, unattended, for at most 90 minutes, and my bike was stolen. I started to question our neighborhood choice.
First step: File a police report. I made the grave mistake of not having the bike’s serial number. It was a housewarming gift from my parents – an Electra Townie, my first bike in years, so it didn’t occur to me to record any ownership details. I gave the responding officer all the details I had, especially the fact that my dad had attached a cheesy but well-meaning “I <3 My Bike” bell to the left handlebar. The officer filed the report, and that was that.
But I wasn’t deterred. My father was going to the bike shop in the morning to get the serial number, but I felt it would be too late. The $490 bike would be pawned first thing in the morning, and I would never see it again.
Since the theft was so recent, I figured it couldn’t have gone far. I walked my neighborhood for a half hour, peeked into as many corners as I legally could and asked folks if they had recently seen a generic “black bike with a basket on the front”. (Helpful, I know.) I got one vague lead, but had no luck.
In a last-ditch effort, I drove around our area. The bike wasn’t in the homeless camp some neighbors have been complaining about. (One of their complaints was stolen bikes.) It also wasn’t parked at the nearby grocery store.
I was about to give up. On my way out of the grocery store parking lot, I spotted an older man on a bike with a front-basket like mine. The bike’s body didn’t look like mine, but because it was dark, I pulled a u-turn to double-check.
The old man disappeared, but the flow of traffic led me down a main road where, *holy shit*, there it was. A guy was riding my bike on the sidewalk, groceries in the basket. It was 9:30p but clear as day – The U-lock I had attached to the basket was drooping off of the left side of the basket, right where I had left it.
Trying to find a compromise between safe driving and following the thief, I called the responding officer and gave him a play-by-play of the pursuit.
The thief headed in the opposite direction, back to the grocery store I already sleuthed. Fortunately, an officer was already in that parking lot and was now heading to my location. The thief parked the bike at the side of the store and walked away. I took the opportunity to re-confirm that the bike was mine and notified the responding officer over the phone.
By the time the parking lot officer arrived, the thief had returned to the bike, saw my gaze, and decided to ditch everything and try to innocently walk away. I flagged the parking lot officer down with my headlights, pointed incessantly at the thief, and he pulled the thief over.
Questioning was brief. The parking lot officer asked him about some yelling that he had observed – meh. The responding officer arrived soon after and asked him about the bike.
Thief: “Oh, that bike was hanging out in front of the Goodwill [next door] so I took it to grab some groceries for my girlfriend.”
Responding Officer: “So you took a bike that wasn’t yours?”
Thief: “Yeah, but I was going to bring it right back, I swear.”
Responding Officer: “Well, that bike was stolen.”
Thief: *incredulously* “Oh damn! I had no idea!”
Responding Officer: “I’m placing you under arrest.”
The responding officer made sure that the bike was mine, took a picture, and confirmed that I wanted to press charges. The thief looked me in the eyes and confessed his regret with a series of “I’m sorry” and “I had no idea it was yours.”
“No comment,” I said. “It was stolen in the last two hours.”
The thief still had the U-lock key on his person. The parking lot officer asked me to confirm the color of the carabiner it was attached to. I responded correctly, and it just felt like rubbing more salt in the thief’s wound.
I rode the bike home and woke up my wife by ringing the doorbell a few times; didn’t want to leave the bike outside of the house alone for a second.
She comes to the door. “Holy shit, right?” I said, motioning to the bike. “Holy shit,” she said, groggily. She drove me back to the grocery store to pick up my car.
Based on the value of the bike, the thief is facing a Class A Misdemeanor, which carries a maximum fine of $6,250 or 1 year in jail. The responding officer explained that I shouldn’t have to do anything further unless the thief takes the case to trial.
I still don’t have many doubts about the safety of our new neighborhood. This was purely a crime of opportunity. I had left our garage light on, and it happened to shine through the garage’s window directly on my wife’s bike, like a shining oasis for a small-time thief. But once he walked up to my wife’s older bike, it was clear that mine was a better target. As a bonus, the neighbors I talked with about the theft were sympathetic and offered everything they could to help.
TL;DR: Bike stolen from side of house within 90 min. of leaving it outside. Casing the neighborhood, I found the thief riding the bike. Police arrest the thief. Bike is safe and sound. Justice is served.