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L.A. sees big jump in bike thefts, prompting some vigilante justice


Although crime across L.A. is dropping, there is one glaring exception: bicycle thefts, which rose 29% last year. Nearly 2,000 bikes were reported stolen last year -- and authorities believe the actual number of thefts was much higher because so many people don’t report stolen bikes.

LAPD detectives believe the increase is due in part to more people using bikes to get around in some neighborhoods. A Times analysis found the USC campus, downtown L.A. and Venice to be hot spots for bike thefts.

Detectives recently broke up a bicycle theft ring and nabbed two men who swiped bikes downtown and sold them on Craigslist. At the motel of one of the alleged thieves, they said they found bolt cutters, hacksaws and a Mercedes-Benz equipped with a bike rack.

Some bike messengers last month took justice into their own hands when they caught two suspected thieves, teenage boys who attended a local Catholic high school. According to police, the messengers stripped down the teens to their boxer shorts before taking their cellphones, backpacks and clothes.

“They meted out street justice. We don’t condone street justice. They never threatened them. But they made it clear: don’t mess with another person’s property,” Los Angeles Police Lt. Paul Vernon said. “This incident and the arrests are the tip of the iceberg when comes to people stealing bicycles.”

Vernon said the two boys told police they were robbed by about 20 men on bicycles at 6th Street and Grand Avenue about 3 p.m. on Jan. 12. Investigators said they cannot prove the boys were stealing bikes and continue to look for the assailants. 

Still, the incident has been the talk of the downtown biking world. “There wasn’t any violence. ... They were stripped of their clothes and sent home,” said bike messenger Douglas Forrest, who says the action was the talk of various bike shops and collectives.

In the downtown area, the number of bikes reported stolen increased last year by 57% -- and cyclists have noticed. “They’ll take anything they can get these days. It has gotten really bad." Forrest said.

Downtown, bicycles are most likely to be stolen between noon and 6 p.m. and Wednesdays are the hottest days for theft, according to an LAPD analysis. The Richard Riordan Library, named incidentally for the cycling former mayor, is a favorite spot for thieves. Poorly designed racks out of sight from passersby make it easier for thieves, said L.A. cycle activist Steve Box.

Ironically, Box said, some of the worst positioned racks can be found at the new LAPD headquarters. Some of the upside-down U-shaped racks the city uses have even been cut and the gap covered with stickers, he said. Bike thieves simply slip out the locked bicycles.

-- Richard Winton

Photo: Hundreds of recovered bicycles in an LAPD warehouse downtown. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (67)

Good for the bikers...I've had bikes stolen over the years, and in downtown, there clearly is a bike ring as stolen bikes get found, FOR SALE, at local stores. The LAPD was notified and as usual, did squat. I guess it takes naked teens for them to act! This was a few years back.

wife & I bicycle in Los Felix area, and the other day, while walking on Vermont Ave., we witnessed two black teenagers quickly cut the cable locks on two bicycles, right in front of the mexican owners at recycle center, and the blacks rode off, while the mexicans unsuccessfully ran after them.


Right on. If more people would stop enabling bad behavior, there would be less. I know the types of bike crews that dominated these wayward youths, they would not do it for no reason.

So, the reason these kids were stripped down was because they were bike thieves? Or bike thieves who attend a local Catholic high school? I don't quite understand why it was so important to note what kind of high school they attend. A thief is a thief. If they had attended a muslim school, would that have been part of the story?

I am one of the 2000 people who had a bike stolen last year and reported it to police. Mine was stolen directly out of my Westwood building's locked parking garage. The thieves unbolted the iron upside-down U that was bolted into the concrete, and took my bike and the rack. I guess they hacked it off somewhere else. They were nice enough to cut the wire lock of the crappy bike that was also attached to the same U and leave that one behind.... it wasn't worth their time I guess. FTR, my bike was a 2008 Trek 7.3FX. It seemed quite planned.

I ended up having to buy a new bike (A Gary Fisher Monona), but now I store it inside my apartment in my large front hall closet. It's not the most convenient solution, but at least it can't be stolen again.

For a month or two I searched Craigslist to see if my bike was posted for sale, but it never was. I guess they either used it (doubtful, as other bikes were taken from the garage along with mine), or sold it to a bike shop.

What is it with the black and mexican adjectives Stan? Let me guess, you are white.

One reason so many bike thefts aren't reported is that too often, the police haven't been willing to take the reports. I've read complaints from a number of cyclists who say they've called the police to report a theft, and never received a response from the LAPD.

For those of you looking for a resource to help combat the problem: stolenbicycleregistry.com offers free listings and searches for stolen bikes

Also the ever-awesome twitter.com/stolenbikesla

The illegal immigrant bike messenger crew needs to be rounded up and charged with felony child molestation and robbery. Then deported. Where do you think these messengers get their bikes? Bike "messengers' just call themselves that to cover for other crimes they are so proficient at. With the advent of secure internet, bike messengers really only do only three things these days-steal, transport meth and cocaine to prosperous downtown business folks and stage phony car/bike/bus accidents. Let's get real here. People who strip and rob teenagers deserve to be one place- STATE PRISON!

Hey Tubbs - Just as Stan felt the need to mention that the thieves were black and the bike owners Mexicans, the Catholic thing is also irrelevant. Would Stan have mentioned race if the two kids where white?

Not exactly a new phenom, 20 years ago my cheap a*s 10 speed lasted exactly one class (less than 2 hours) locked in front of the ucla library.

At the risk of being overly pragmatic, wouldn't it be fairly easy to investigate who sells more than 5 bikes a year on Craigslist and/or EBay? That has to make at least as much sense as studying what day bikes are stolen.

I guess the price of gas is too high to steal cars.

Good to know about the cut bike racks. If you see any stickers - pull those suckers off, and REPORT the broken bike rack.

You might even spray paint the sidewalk in front of it: BEWARE - bike rack is CUT!

Is there a police auction for these recovered bicycles? if so where can i find the information?

Thank you

They shoot horse thieves. Vigilante justice is so sweet.

There are thieves who will strip components off of properly-locked bikes, but most of the time, thieves are looking to get away quickly with the whole bike. This means they are hitting bikes that are 'secured' with a cable lock, and cable locks alone are a joke. If bike owners use a U-Lock (or two) they are going to be much more likely to find their bike waiting when they come back.

But there are other problems out of cyclists' control -- many places have no proper bike racks, so you see many folks secure their bikes to poles and signposts where there's really little to stop a thief from either lifting the bike over the top of the sign, or pulling the sign from the concrete.

So we need cyclists to be better educated on how to properly lock their bikes, and we need more strong bike racks, placed in well-traveled, safe areas.

I'm not against street justice but are you sure these kids were bike thieves?

I've had a bike stolen.

If I ever caught someone stealing my bike, I am afraid of what I would do to them.

Bike Theives are vermin. They should be exterminated.

Also, register your bike at your local PD. At least if it is stolen and found, it will be returned to it's rightful owner, and the PD will have proof that it indeed was stolen.

Stripped? Those kids were lucky. If I caught somebody stealing my bike, I'd wrap his face around the handlebars, and thoroughly enjoy doing so.

Well yes, that is only part of the story. There was an incident during December where a cyclists had her bike stolen in Santa Monica. It was her only means of transportation. Using twitter an LA cyclist collected donations from other LA cyclists, enough to purchase a used bicycle from Safety Cycle Shop on Western Ave ( I believe the bike shop cut the price slightly as well, to help out with the cause).

So not everyone turns to vigilante justice. Some turn to helping the their fellow bicyclists.

I think we need more street justice. Until law enforcement takes each complaint seriously and our legal system hands out appropriate punishment to those who violate the law, it's necessary for we the people to make amends for crimes committed against us.

Holy Jesus, Tubb, are you retarded?

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