lessons from the stolen bike

No, I don’t have my bike back. I don’t expect I ever will; if it shows up one day, it will be by a coincidence of police work and sheer random chance, and I’ll probably donate the thing to some charity. But I have a new bike now, which means that I’ve had a fresh reminder of how some asshole came in and stole the old one, but at least I don’t have to be pissed off every time I think of an errand to run and then remember I have no way to run it.

I want to talk about what I learned from this. But it’s not going to be a list of “I should have done X, Y, or Z,” because you know what? Fuck that noise. It smacks of “it’s my fault my bike got stolen,” because all the precautions I took were not enough precautions, or the right precautions. Or maybe I shouldn’t have owned a piece of easily stealable transport in the first place. Frankly, that kind of logic can bite me.

What I want to talk about is the stuff others may not know, the stuff that made my investigating officer call me “the perfect victim.” Not in the sense of being somebody crime was bound to happen to, but rather the kind of person a cop hopes to deal with, and rarely does.

In other words, if crime happens to you, then here are some things you might want to bear in mind.

So the order of events was this.

I came downstairs to our parking garage and noticed somebody had tried to pry the metal grating off the pedestrian gate. (I say “tried” because they had made a hole, but I did not, at the time, think it was large enough for them to reach through and turn the knob. I was wrong.) We’ve had trouble before, usually due to the car gate malfunctioning and not closing all the way, so I frowned at that and went on in. I got remarkably close to where I keep my bike before I noticed that, um, no, the bike was not there: just two pieces of chain on the ground.

I swore. Very loudly. (This part is not strictly useful, but it will probably happen anyway.)

I stormed out a different gate, because the first thought in my head was to call management and tell them to fix the broken gate, and by the way my bike got stolen. I don’t have their number saved in my phone, so I had to go to the mailboxes and pick up a maintenance form. While I was doing that, I called kniedzw and asked him to come pick me up, because the reason I’d gone down there in the first place was to bike to a doctor’s appointment. Then I called maintenance and left a message, and then called the emergency pager for good measure, because it was the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend and if they didn’t get on that repair right away, we’d go for days with a busted gate.

Then I went back into my apartment and threw my bike helmet down and swore some more, and posted to LJ. (Yeah. Welcome to the twenty-first century, where that seems like an important thing to do.)

Having posted, it occurred to me that hey, this was a crime. You know who deals with that? Not management. The police.

I knew, even when I called, that it probably wouldn’t accomplish much in the long run. But that’s no reason not to try. So I looked up the main number, called, and said something along the lines of “uh, I don’t know how to go about doing this, ’cause it’s never happened to me before, but I’d like to report that my bike was stolen.” I explained that the thief had broken into locked property to get at the bike and cut through the chain, and the man on the phone said they would send an officer by.

Since logic was now catching up with me, I then called kniedzw back and said that uh, that appointment? Yeah, I was canceling it. (Which I proceeded to do. If the receptionist had tried to charge me a cancellation fee, I think I would have reached through the phone and torn her face off. But I explained that my transportation had been stolen, and she expressed her sympathies.)

How long was it going to take the cop to arrive? No idea, but it occurred to me that I couldn’t really remember the make and model of my bike — did I have the receipt anywhere? Why yes, I did, in an easily-findable place, so I pulled that out and found it had not only the make, model, and price, but the details for several bike accessories I’d bought at the same time . . . and the serial number.

Then, because I couldn’t sit still, I grabbed my digital camera and went back down to photograph the busted door and cut chain.

Fortunately, the cop arrived soon after, or I don’t know what I would have found to occupy myself. Post a Craiglist ad looking for a bloodhound, maybe. She noted down the information from my receipt (praising me for still having it and being able to produce it on demand), took her own photos, and questioned me about timing. I was ultimately able to narrow the theft down to a four-and-a-half-hour window, which impressed her: I knew the bike had been there when I returned at about 5:30 a.m. from driving a friend to the airport, and confirmed with kniedzw that the pedestrian gate hadn’t been crowbarred open when he left for work at about 11 a.m., and I’d discovered the theft at 3:30 p.m. I was able to tell her the arrangements for the garage, i.e. who had access and how, the allocation of parking spaces, previous troubles in the area, etc. I hadn’t even touched the chain, which is when she praised my behavior; apparently most people’s instinct is to grab the thing, throw it around, etc (probably while swearing). Because of that, she was able to try lifting prints off it, though she had no success.

(More proof that I am a writer: when she did that, I asked if I could observe and ask questions. By then I was calm enough that “I’d better remember this for posterity” had kicked in.)

I asked the cop what my odds were of getting the bike back, and she shook her head. Pretty much as I expected. But the police will do their best. And when she was gone, or maybe before she came — can’t remember which — I set kniedzw to work inquiring into what our renters’ insurance would do to cover the loss. It’s about all I could do, that and post signs warning my fellow residents to make sure they hadn’t lost anything. (The cop and I walked around the garage and saw no other signs of theft, but couldn’t be sure.)

When my parents’ house was burgled several years ago, my father was able to produce receipts for pretty much everything they took — even items that had been bought in 1977. Me, I’m not that good. But what I learned is this: keep receipts for the expensive things, at least. Make sure you can find them on short notice. Try to pay attention to the world around you, inasmuch as it’s possible to teach yourself to be that kind of person, so that you can answer questions when they come. TOUCH NOTHING. Document everything.

And let yourself swear.

0 Responses to “lessons from the stolen bike”

  1. mq_musings

    True Story: I used to own a business and one night my alarm company called to say that the door and motion sensors had been tripped. I drove to the store at 3 am to find thousands of dollars of inventory missing, as well as the day’s deposit bag. They had also smashed some display cases, apparently for the joy of doing so.

    I called the cops and then wandered around taking pictures for the insurance claim, carefully not touching anything. While doing so I noticed one of the thieves had dirty hands and had left obvious fingerprints on the door and other places.

    The cops came and took my statement, and their attitude was “Yeah, sometimes thieves break in. Sucks, huh? Shame no one can do anything about that.” One of the cops told me that there’d been a rash of similar robberies in businesses around town. I kept waiting for them to take prints, but they just filled out the paperwork and started to leave, so finally I said, “Hey, maybe you could take prints and maybe see if they’re already in the system? Or at least have them on file so if you catch one of the thieves you can tie them to at least one other crime?”

    Cop’s response: “Wow, that’s a great idea! You should be a cop!” Not sarcastic — genuinely impressed, like fingerprints haven’t been part of police work for, oh, forever. Like I was clever.

    I haven’t respected my city’s police force much since then. (And no, the thieves were never caught.)

    • Marie Brennan

      Not all police forces have the manpower or motivation to deal with those things — but the notion that they didn’t even think to check for it? Um. Yeah. Not much reason for respect, there.

    • icedrake


      Let’s hope the speaker wasn’t likely to pass his sergeant’s exam.

  2. Anonymous

    Generally a good idea, but there’s one horrible and horrifying exception:

    DO NOT PUT YOUR WILL, OR LIVING WILL, OR MEDICAL POWER OF ATTORNEY TO BE USED IF YOU BECOME INCOMPETENT, IN A SAFETY DEPOSIT BOX. Ever. It will require the intervention of a probate judge to get the safety deposit box open so that those documents — which are supposed to keep you from having much to do with a probate judge — can be made effective when they’re actually needed.

  3. silvergryphyn

    I’m really sorry about your bike but thanks for the great write up. I need to go confirm that I know where certain receipts are. I think maybe I’ll scan/photograph them to have digital copies as well.

  4. Marie Brennan

    At the very least, I intend to get a firebox someday. I’m less worried about those documents being stolen, and more about them going up in smoke.

Comments are closed.