The Post ran a story on Sunday - on the front page no less - about bike crime in the district. It's centered on the story of Martin Moulton who became that rarest of creatures - someone who recovered a stolen bike. His story is similar to one the City Paper reported on recently, basically his bike was stolen and it was later seen on craigslist. [I just did a search and my stolen Specialized Cirrus was not on there. Nor was my red and white Red Line, but that was stolen in 1983 so it was a long shot]. They make the point that bike theft seems to be up lately
D.C. police Lt. Michael Smith said that although the department doesn't keep statistics on the subject, bike theft in the region appears to be on the rise. "It's gone up significantly because there's a market on the street for bicycles," Smith said. "They're killing us."
Although Montgomery County police statistics show little change in the level of bike thefts, Metro Transit Police, who track thefts from Metro stations, reported 25 bike thefts in May and 32 in June -- roughly double the numbers from the same months last year.
Part of the problem seems to be ebay and craigslist.
"It used to be that stolen bikes were more of a crime of opportunity," said Denise D'Amour, co-owner of Capitol Hill Bikes. "People saw a bike that wasn't locked very well, and they would grab the bike and run. With the advent of Craigslist and eBay, it looks like more expensive bikes are being stolen in a more organized way."
Of course another part is that it seems no one gets arrested for it. It was hard for me to find any national or local statistics on bicycle theft related arrests and convictions but I did find this from UC Santa Barabara.
only 14% of the UCSB crimes were "cleared," that is suspects were arrested, the report was false, or the victims didn't prosecute.
DC doesn't offer statistics about what percentage of Larceny or Theft cases are "cleared" (as near as I can tell) and certainly doesn't break out "bicycle thefts" as a separate category, but I suspect you'll find more bootleggers in DC's jails than bicycle thieves. I say that because even when he knew where his bike was Mr. Moulton was getting very little help.
Dissatisfied with the response he got from D.C. police, Moulton planned a vigilante take-back operation
The police claim
most bike thefts go unsolved because many victims do not report the crimes or have unregistered bikes and few promising leads.
Really? Is it that or is it because recovery efforts are not made and reports are lost?
He soon discovered that the police department had lost the report he filed when the bike was stolen. He called the mayor's office and eventually got in touch with Smith, the lieutenant, who in turn got in touch with investigators in the district that covers Georgetown. They told Moulton that they weren't sure how soon they could set up a sting.
Well, what about a case when the owner has a low jack system and can tell the police where their bike is - surely the police would help with that?
McKenna, 26, felt he had a decent chance of catching the crooks, particularly because he had installed a tracking device on the bike.
He called 911, but officers were delayed in finding his house because, he said, the dispatcher confused Riggs and Ridge streets.
His battery worked for 55 hours before dying. In that time it appears he got no help from the police.
In the end, the police did intervene to recover Mr. Moulton's bike, but they didn't arrest the guy who was selling stolen merchandise or pursue the case to see who stole it.
He said he provided police with a statement and surrendered the bike. He said he was never charged and has not heard from police since the sting. A police spokesman declined to comment. Moulton said he also did not hear from police again.
Nice crime fighting there. They took a report which they lost, they seemed disinterested in pursuing a case with a real lead, showed up for the glory moment, arrested no one and didn't follow up on it. But I'm sure all the blame belongs to people who don't bother to file reports or register their bikes - because if you do the DCPD is ready to kick into gear.
By the way, the Freakonomics blog wrote about lojack for bikes a couple of years ago and believes it could work
They found that [auto theft] falls overall in areas where even a small percentage of the cars carry Lojack.
Of course, you need an engaged police force. DC needs to assign one police officer (at least) to full time bike theft prevention - or DDOT's going to have a tough time getting more people to bike.