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SPD: How an officer recovered a stolen mountain bike in Cal Anderson

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.01.33 AMSeattle Police Officer Drew Fowler was on bike patrol in Cal Anderson Park Saturday when he spotted a high-end mountain bike in the hands of a suspected thief.

Officer Fowler stopped the man and asked if he could have a look at the bike’s serial number. The man let him, according to Seattle Police, and the officer found it listed as stolen on Bike Index.

The officer confiscated the bike and the suspect was arrested for possession of stolen property. The bike was reunited with its owner thanks again to Bike Index.

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There are several lessons in this example of bike theft enforcement. First, it is very hard to get someone on bike theft, but much easier to get someone on the lesser crime of possession of stolen property. Even when someone has a stolen bike and a set of bolt cutters in his backpack (as with this case), it’s still impossible to prove he was the person who stole it without witness or video/photo evidence of the theft itself.

Second, there is a gray area in the stop and search phase. In this case, SPD says the man gave the officer permission to look at the serial number. But what if he had said no? Simply appearing “sketchy” is not (and should not be) cause for a search. Perhaps this is where Bike Index can help again. If an officer runs the make and model of the suspicious bike on their phone and finds a stolen listing, should that be enough cause for a stop and search?

Third, recovering bikes is awesome, so thanks to Officer Fowler for seeing this one through. How can we get more officers to use Bike Index and keep an eye out for stolen bikes? If enough people get arrested for possessing a stolen bike, will that make it a little less appealing to steal bikes to make a quick buck? Or even if not, at least more people will get their beloved bikes back, which is a good result on its own.

And finally, register your bike online. And if you haven’t already, record your bike’s serial number. It’s much easier and faster to match a stolen bike if you have that number. It’s also handy to have photos of yourself with your bike.

More details from the SPD Blotter:

Two SPD bike officers put the brakes on a suspected bicycle thief Saturday after they spotted him walking a high-end Cannondale through Cal Anderson Park and pedaled over to chat him up about his bike.

Officer Drew Fowler, a long-time cycling enthusiast, asked the man about his pricey silver Cannondale, and became suspicious when the man said he’d bought it from a website for $400–about one-tenth of its retail value.

drewOfficer Fowler (pictured right) and his partner Jose Silva asked the man if they could take a look at the bike’s serial number, and he obliged. Officer Fowler quickly signed up for an account on Bikeindex.org and discovered the bike’s owner had listed it as stolen.

After taking the man into custody for possession of stolen property, officers found a set of bolt cutters inside his backpack.

Officers booked the suspect into the King County Jail for investigation of stolen property and referred the case to mental health court.

With the help of BikeIndex, Officer Fowler was able to contact the Cannondale’s rightful owner and return the bicycle.

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10 responses to “SPD: How an officer recovered a stolen mountain bike in Cal Anderson”

  1. R

    Perhaps we can get Officer Fowler detailed to the North Precinct and West
    Precinct to go for a ride past the encampments with mountains of stripped bike frames. They are all over the industrial areas of Ballard and Magnolia/Innnerbay but don’t seem to be getting much attention.

    1. Ballardite

      Not just industrial areas. You can find many stolen bikes at Ballard Commons to the point where I heard two men openly discussing where they “found” their stolen bikes, one had a Scott racing bike the other was on a Diamondback (unlocked garages in case you were wondering). You would think that this would justify calling the police but when you have gang activity, open drug sales and use, people with severe mental illness threatening to kill people, and open prostitution you have to be selective in your calls.

      Full credit to the SPD who have to deal with all of this. I don’t envy them.

      1. ZeGerman

        Have y’all seen the crazy mountain of garbage and bike parts strewn about the grassy area along the NB I-5 entrance ramp at 45th street? Holy smokes.

  2. Elliot

    Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Bike Index in any way. But I can’t recommend Bike Index enough; it is THE registry that you want in Seattle. I had my bike (registered on Bike Index *with pictures*) stolen out of my building’s basement and King county sheriff dept. recovered it downtown about three weeks later. They said that every morning before going out they look at the list of stolen bikes specifically on Bike Index to know what to look for downtown or wherever. Having pictures and the serial number vastly improve your chances of recovery. Also, renter’s insurance is an incredible value, totally worth the ~$35/month.

    1. Elliot

      Forgot to mention also obviously having the receipt is the final key to vastly improving your chances of recovery.

    2. ZeGerman

      You pay $35/mo for renter’s insurance? Holy smokes, that’s high! I pay about $7/mo with a $500 deductible, which covers up to $35k in total loss.

      1. Elliot

        Well, yeah, it’s also for everything we own, with a $200 deductible. I’m not very good with insurance and policies or whatever. I guess I don’t really know the difference; it’s with USAA. But I had a brand new Surly Troll stolen and they reimbursed me for it with no hassle. So I bought another bike with that money and when the Troll was recovered I had to donate the Troll to avoid the suspicion of fraud:/

  3. Kristina

    Kudos to the SPD and Bike Index! I registered my stolen bike on Bike Index and while it took five months before the SPD recovered it, I probably never would have gotten it back if it wasn’t for the Bike Index. Definitely take pics of your bike, register it on Bike Index, and keep those receipts.

  4. ZeGerman

    All good points covered in this post, particularly with regard to the razor thin edge between profiling and savvy policing. I had my bike stolen and recovered in March of 2015, but for some reason the police did not arrest the person who was in possession of it when recovered. I don’t know why they charge him with possession of stolen property, but I got the sense that the police felt bad for the guy, who was deeply strung out on meth and his clothes were in tatters. When you’re that far in the gutter, it’s debatable whether an arrest would be useful to anyone. I’m not sure how I feel about it…

  5. […] Seattle Bike Blog points out three important lessons for Capitol Hill bike […]

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