I grew up in Japan and I'm very much aware of the low crime rate there. People outside of Tokyo habitually leave the keys in their cars. Even in Tokyo they leave their bikes unlocked all day at the train station.
So it was a big surprise to Los Angeles Times reporter Bruce Wallace when his bike disappeared from the bike rack. He assumed it was impounded because it wasn't locked at the right spot and planned a visit to the bike impound lot. Then the Tokyo Metropolitan Police called. They had recovered his bike (which wasn't even reported stolen yet) and captured the thief.
A drunk stole Bruce's bike. The police -- on foot -- ordered the thief to stop because he was riding without lights. Instead of running, the thief indeed stopped.
The reporter asks the police: But what would you have done if he hadn't stopped?
"We would have chased him on our official bikes," he says. He points to a battered bike with a basket on the back.
"Is it fast enough?" Bruce asked him.
"Oh, it can't compete with yours," the cop answers. "But we would have done our best."
They brought the drunk in for questioning. After 40 minutes, they had a confession from the drunk. The police tracked the owner down through the registration sticker on the bike. All because the drunk didn't have a light on the bike.
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I recently read an article about an interesting experiment about bike theft in Tokyo. Unfortunately it's in Japanese, but here it is anyway:
As you blogged, bike theft seems to be a real headache these days, so the author of the article tried to modify and paint his bike so that it would look like the "official police bike", then left it in a busy downtown. Guess what, even the bike was not locked and very visible, it hadn't been stolen for a long time. You can take a look at the images on how the "official police bike" was created.