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Bike Thefts Becoming a Growing Problem in Los Angeles. What Can Be Done?

12:29 PM PST on November 23, 2009

11_23_09_lance.jpgNot even Lance is safe. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last weekend, when I was a guest on Bike Talk, the conversation in the room turned to what can be done about the growing number and boldness of bicycle thieves in Los Angeles.  After lamenting that the LAPD basically declared it a non-priority, unless you can hand them the case on a silver platter, at a meeting at Echo Park there was a brief debate concerning personal responsibility and "street justice."

I have to admit, I was unprepared for the debate.  Sure, I had seen the quirky and popular "Hal Grades Your Bike Lock" and I remembered the story of a group calling itself the Stolen Bike Recovery Unit getting a bike back from someone who was either a bike thief or "bicycle launderer" by just waiting for the bike to appear on Craig's List.  But I had to admit, I'm far from an expert on the issue.

I do know that trying to take the law into your own hands is a bad idea.  Westside BikeSIDE's Alex Thompson describes why in two posts from September of this year entitled, "Stupid bike thefts lead to stupid fantasies," and "Bike thief arrested, was carrying a .357." Turns out the bike thief in this story was packing heat, which is one reason to avoid confronting the thief yourself.  A stun gun and pepper spray would be more than trumped by the .357. Thompson mentions another one,

Moreover, it’s irrational.  If you catch a bike thief and you beatthe shit out of them, you can no longer turn them in.  If you do,you’ll be brought up on assault charges.  If you catch them and detainthem, instead of beating them up, you’ve caught a thief, andpotentially you’ve got a shot at catching any collaborators.

Here’s the rub - you don’t know what you’re doing.   You’ve got noexperience setting up stings, and the thief has experience stealingbikes.  There’s a good chance that your lack of experience will justturn out to be embarrassing for you.  On the other hand, there’s achance that a confrontation will ensue, and someone could get hurt. Your bike just isn’t worth that.

So what can we do?  After reading the suggestions from sites around the Internet, the best suggestions I can see are three fold.

The first is that we all need to be responsible for protecting our own bikes when parked and ourselves when riding.  When the bike is parked, lock it up.  The "Hal Grades Your Bike Lock" series may be funny at times, but it's also packed full of good advice.  When I park my bike, a Kryptonite U-Lock on the front wheel and chain, and a chain combination lock on the rear wheel, it's one of the more secure bikes that I see.  But I'm pretty sure Hal would give me a C or a D.

As for self-protection on the road, I know several riders who carry some sort of self-defense on them.  That's a good second-defense, because we do live in a city, and you do never know, but the most important thing you can do to be safe on your bike from thieves and robbers is to know your route and bike a safe route.  I don't care how "bike friendly" a route is, when it's late at night I'm biking on major streets where there will be a lot of witnesses to any violence.

Of course, if you can bike with another rider on routes or at times that might be more dangerous; that's a good idea as well.  Strength in numbers after all.

Second, if your bike is stolen, don't try to be a super hero.  The team from the "Bike Recovery Unit" was lucky that their thief wasn't packing anything that would trump a video camera.  If you want to read more on this, check out Thompson's two pieces.  He does an excellent job breaking it down.  And if you can work with the LAPD on a sting of some sort, more power to you.

Third, once you're ready, get back on a bike.  There's strength in numbers, so don't let some thieves reduce our group strength.  We need you out there to help make the streets a little safer for all of us.

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