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Old 09-19-05, 11:28 AM   #1
chrisg
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witness to theft, what do you do?

Yesterday i noticed this guy futzing with a bike on the same rack as mine. He wasn't acting suspicious but in retrospect i did notice another bike sitting next to the rack, unlocked. He finally freed the bike from the rack and next thing i knew he was off, rolling his bike along as he rode. it wasn't until I saw him with two bikes I realized I had just watched him steal somebody's bike. After he was gone I saw the bike had been locked with a simple cable lock, which had been cut and was lying useless on the ground.

of course, the bike's owners (a couple) showed up right after. the funny thing was, they actually had two bikes locked together with the same flimsy cable, but the thief had only stolen one (both were newish road type bikes). i felt bad telling them that i basically stood around while some guy stole their bike, but i've honestly never seen it happen with my own eyes before, and it didn't register until it was too late.

now on the one hand, they were using a cable lock that could be cut with a rinky-dink wire cutter from any hardware store. the bike rack is on the side of a building, literally in the shadows (Brooklynites may be familiar with this rack on the east side of the Atlantic Terminal Mall).

but of course i feel like i should have said/done something. so finally, my question: if you think somebody is stealing a bike, what can you do or say to stop it without sounding like an accusatory jerk? i wouldn't want to accuse somebody of stealing if it was his own bike of course. this thief was pretty grim and serious but he was also an older guy who looked like he would rather not bother with the hassle of stealing if somebody had intervened. has anybody stopped a bike theft from happening like this?
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Old 09-19-05, 11:44 AM   #2
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You indicate you didn't know he was stealing the bicycle until he left. I wouldn't feel bad about being uncertain.

I would think the most appropriate course of action is to take the time to commit his/her features to memory and call the police. I think it unwise to accost the person or attempt to detain them. You could end up injured or worse for your trouble. If you feel compelled to do more, then yell out and make a fuss. Maybe pretend it's your bike and get the attention of other passersby to force him/her to abandon due to all the un-wanted attention. But avoid physical contact.

Btw, the method used for locking the bikes does not make it less a crime to steal them. They did not deserve to have the bike stolen.

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Old 09-19-05, 11:48 AM   #3
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If it were me, and I realized what was going on, I might have asked the thief if it was his bike. He might get too nervous to finish the job. Or if it was soon enough after the theft, I probably would chase him down on my own bike to at least follow him, maybe confront.

If you had confronted him, he also may have freaked out and stabbed you or something with whatever tool he was using the cut the cable.
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Old 09-19-05, 11:53 AM   #4
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Minor criminals, esp drug addicts can become very violent when challenged. You can't appeal to reason and they dont care about consequences. Be very careful before you challenge someone. Are they alone? Are they armed (even with a screwdriver or bolt cutter)? Can they reach you in one leap?
If the worst does happen, don't expect any help from on-lookers.

My advice would be similar to OPC's : keep your distance, check the area for cctv cameras, call the police. If there is some other person around, point out the evil-dooer so that you have two witnesses. Take a description, noting any distinctive footwear, jewellery, tatoos.
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Old 09-19-05, 12:14 PM   #5
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I witnessed a guy stealing a bike from the rack in front of my apartment in college. I was sitting inside and heard a metallic banging outside. I walked out to my steps on the third floor and saw the guy hitting the lock with a chisel and hammer...about 4:00 in the afternoon! Right as I was about to yell something, a couple of football players who lived on the ground floor walked out. The guy jumped on the bike, rode about ten yards and got hit with a flying tackle that would have stopped a pro lineman. Yea, he stayed down until the cops showed up.
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