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Why It Pays To Report Your Stolen Bicycle

Getting your bicycle stolen is a terribly deflating feeling. It strikes a blow against your faith in strangers and trust in common spaces. The “mood board” of getting your bike stolen might contain crying little kids, people standing in the rain without umbrellas, screaming-John-Cleese-level fury, and sad koala bears. Not to mention the financial cost and impaired ability to get where you need to go.

Nell stolen bike1

The bicycle in question

When your bicycle is stolen, you should absolutely report it to the police. Unfortunately, Philadelphia has a serious bicycle theft problem, and recovery and return of stolen bicycles to their owners is rare. However, we recently heard a reaffirming story of bicycle theft which we want to share.

A Philadelphian woman named Nell had borrowed her boyfriend Ben’s bicycle while he was spending the summer in school in Maine. This past Thursday night she biked to see a free Shakespeare performance at the Free Library and locked it up outside.1  Around 10 pm, she came outside to discover her bicycle was gone.

She called the police to report the theft. While she waited for the police to arrive, she called her boyfriend because she realized that she didn’t know any of the important details of the bicycle (make, model, serial number, whether it had insurance, etc). As she tells the story:

I was really upset when we spoke–I felt terrible that he had generously lent me his bike for the summer and that this had happened, and also having something stolen from you (especially in the city that you call home!) is such a soul-crushing feeling. Also, on an emotional level, because he’s in rural Maine and we haven’t been able to communicate a lot this summer, it felt horrible to “waste a phone call”  with my long-distance boyfriend to tell him that his bike was stolen!

An officer arrived at the Free Library at 11:30 pm to take down the report.2

Although I wasn’t thrilled about having to wait in the same spot my bike was stolen for 1.5 hours for the police to show up, the community was pretty incredible and 6 people insisted on waiting with me until I had filed the report and then drove me home. Hooray Philly!

Bike-less Nell went home. Meanwhile, an officer at Broad & Spring Garden saw someone riding one bicycle and carrying another.3 He radioed out asking for any recent reported bike thefts, and learned about Nell’s. The officer stopped the bicyclist and took a photo of the bicycle.

At 3:15 am, Nell’s cell phone rang. It was the officer who had taken her bike theft report, saying they may have found her bicycle and asking if Nell had a smartphone (she did). He texted her a photo, and she confirmed that it was her boyfriend’s bicycle.

Originally, once they had found it, the police asked me to come to the police station to pick up the bike, but given that it was after 3am (and I was without a car or bike), I asked if I could pick it up in the morning. At that point they said they could just bring it by my apartment that night, which was really kind of them…It was really pretty amazing–it was the 9th district and I wrote them a thank you card.

Nell filled out the property receipt paperwork and had her bicycle back.

The best kind of 5 AM image text to receive: bicycle returned

The best kind of 5 AM image text to receive: bicycle returned

Thank you to the officers of the 9th Police District for your attention to this bicycle theft and the efficient method of its identification and recovery. Thank you to those bystanders who hung out with a bike theft victim on a Thursday night on the Parkway. And thank you to Nell for sharing this story – good news is always welcome news – and to Ben for the intra-relationship bike share program he’s running. 4

Are you locking your bicycle correctly? Read our tips on how to lock up safely and what to do if your bicycle is stolen. You may not have as happy a reunion with your bicycle as Nell, but reporting your theft helps build the statistical case for the importance of cracking down on bike theft.

  1. In case you’re wondering, one likely contributor to the theft was an improper locking job.
  2. Both we and Nell understand that responding to bicycle theft at 10pm on a Thursday night is likely not high on the PPD’s list of priorities.
  3. We’re guessing the suspect was using this technique
  4. Nell does not have a bicycle of her own, but she says that despite this experience, she’s feeling more and more inclined to get one of her own for when Ben returns in the fall.

Topics: Biking in Philly, Featured

One comment on “Why It Pays To Report Your Stolen Bicycle

  1. Heidi Siegel

    Great post Nicholas! I had a similar experience about 5 or 6 years ago with the 9th. I reported my bike stolen. They called later that evening — theft happened at 5:30 pm — approx. 9 pm and said they had my bike back. A friend drove me to the station and I picked it up. I’m hoping they do what other districts are starting — bike registration with your local police district. All efforts to prevent theft or improve recovery are good moves.

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