Witness to a Bicycle Theft

I drive from Oakland to San Jose on Tuesdays to spend the afternoon with my son. I’ve been using Zipcar to make the weekly trip for the past few months, and It’s working well for me. My trips are usually uneventful. The end to last Tuesday’s trip was an exception.

I pulled in to the Lake Merritt BART parking lot at around 8:25 PM and parked. I checked the inside of the car to make sure I had all my belongings with me. I then became aware of a small group of teenagers checking out parked bikes, so I sat in the car and watched them. They focused on a bike locked to a tree right in front of me, pointing and talking to each other.

A group of around 10 people came walking up the sidewalk toward the parked bike, and and the teens dispersed. After the group passed, the teens returned to the bike. One got on one knee, back to me, and stuck his elbows out. One of his buddies pointed at the bike. The kid one one knee was behaving like a thief with a bolt-cutter. his buddy was pointing at the spot to cut.

I quickly stepped out of the car and slammed the door. They didn’t hear it. So I spoke up. “Are you stealing a bike?!?! Are you stealing a bike?!?! Are you f*%#ing kidding me?!?! You’re stealing a bike!! Bike thieves!! Bike thieves!!” My voice was loud, forceful, and angry. I was angry.

The kids were obviously terrified by my yelling and ran off. I yelled more as they ran off. I won’t repeat my words here.

After they turned a corner, I walked over to the bike and checked it out. The would-be thieves were aiming to cut a cable, but it was untouched. Satisfied with myself that I had just stopped a crime in progress, I walked back to the car to gather my belongings. That was when I spotted the bolt-cutter lying on the sidewalk.

My TrophyIt’s my trophy now.

So, I have a question for those of you in law enforcement: What should one do when confronted with this situation? Did I do the right thing? Or is there a better response? I’d really like to know.

Also, has anyone else been in this situation? How did you handle it?


  1. 1. Call the cops immediately, report theft in progress.
    2. Lock doors to your car, stay in the car and observe. Take pictures & video if able.
    3. If it looks like the cops are not going to show up in time, and the perps are almost done with the deed, and you feel it’s safe to do so, do what you did. But only if all three coincide.
    4. If you’re looking to bring attention to the matter from the outside public, yell “fire.” People don’t give a shit about others getting robbed, they do care about their stuff burning down.

    Glad this had a happy ending.

  2. You stopped a bike theft, confiscated the tool of the trade, and hopefully scared those kids enough that some of them might think twice about repeating the offense. Can I buy you a drink?

  3. Awesome trophy!!!
    I’m not in law enforcement but I think you did the right thing. The teens were skittish as you noted, so I don’t think you were in any danger. Each situation is different though so be careful.

  4. I largely agree with Vitaly. Call the police immediately. Take pictures and video. On my phone, as soon as I take either, it is uploaded to Google Plus. If they see you taking pictures and video (and you’re probably better if they don’t), make sure you tell them that it’s already uploaded so they don’t think that beating you up might stop the video from getting to the police.

    You certainly didn’t do anything “wrong.” I’m glad things turned out as they did and you’re safe and healthy (and stopped a theft).

  5. …i bet they stole the bolt cutters to begin with…

    …& ya, you lucked out that these weren’t the particularly aggro types…

    …you were some cyclist’s divine intervention, at least for a night…

  6. You did the right thing. I despise our culture of fear and the rationale that we should be so frightened we won’t try and help our fellow man.

    I also humbly suggest that sitting in your car with the doors locked is not going to protect you from anything. If the kids mobilized and threatened you running is a better option than staying still. Weapons don’t change that calculus, it only increases the states.

  7. I should clarify “group of teenagers.” Ages 13-16, Asian, small in stature. They would have looked very out of place in the back of a squad car.Their nerd/thug scale ratio was around 5/95. If their ratio were reversed, I might have stayed in the car. Calling OPD for anything other than a murder means you might see an officer at some point in the next 24 hours. I’m glad things turned out the way they did too.

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