Tom Stratton is one of the many locals that use a bicycle to travel short distances within the City, and like many of those riders he has had the unfortunate experience of returning to a bike rack to find the bicycle missing. However, Stratton is among the rare riders that was able to recover his bike before it was lost to the wilds of Los Angeles.
Bicycle theft is a consistent problem in Santa Monica. According to the Santa Monica Police Department, 597 bicycles were reported stolen in 2015 and 289 were reported stolen in the first eight months of this year.
SMPD said the first step to preventing theft is to make sure the bike is properly locked and secured, preferably with a U-lock as they are generally more secure than other varieties. However, thieves will exploit any opportunity and even locked bikes are stolen. SMPD said locking a bike in a well-lit and populated area is also helpful in preventing theft.
Stratton actually followed all the advice when heading for the Broad Museum in Downtown Los Angeles. He left his bike at the bike racks near the downtown Expo station. He used a U-lock on the frame and an additional wire around the tires.
“I was as happy as can be, then I come back and the bike is gone but the lock is there.”
With the lock still secured around the rack, and apparently undamaged, Stratton said he was understandably upset. He sent a text to his family saying the day had been great, but it just got a lot worse.
Stratton then walked to the nearby police station to report the theft. He praised the police for taking the report on a weekend, showing compassion and professionalism during his complaint but it was a small comment from an officer that stuck with Stratton. The officer mentioned that bikes stolen in Santa Monica are often taken to nearby Venice.
“I walk the mile and a half home and I’m getting more and more mad but I’m thinking about what the guy said so I get on my other bike and I decide to look around,” said Stratton. “I go back to the train station and head right to the beach. I get onto the path in Santa Monica and I’m riding toward Venice and I see a guy on my bike riding toward me.”
What Stratton did next is explicitly not recommended by police officers. He confronted the rider who claimed to have purchased the bike for $40 from someone in Venice. The bike was missing its basket but was otherwise undamaged.
“I said, ‘OK you walk away and I’ll give you the $40.’ I ride it home and I’m talking to the family and I get home and I said ‘screw this, I’m going to find my basket.’”
He returned to the path and within a few minutes he saw a woman staring at an apparently abandoned basket on the side of the path. It was his basket, complete with the straps. The woman said she saw a pair of men abandon it and Stratton was able to reattach it with no problems.
Lieutenant Saul Rodriguez said the department is always happy when property is returned, but cautioned residents against direct confrontation.
“If the owner/victim sees the bicycle, call SMPD or agency of jurisdiction. Do not confront, it may make matters worse,” he said.
Rodriguez said it’s important for all bicycle owners to record and save their bicycle serial numbers.
When a bike is stolen, prompt reporting is also important.
“Report the loss to SMPD or agency of jurisdiction,” said Rodriguez. “It is common for owners to not report the loss or not save the serial number which makes it difficult to recover the bicycle or make an arrest.”
Stratton said he was happy to recover his property and said there’s no reason to despair when property is stolen.
“As soon as it happens, you go to look in the area, report it to the police and listen to what the police are saying,” he said. “Guys are just grabbing (bikes) and selling them right in the area so don’t give up. Not many people will take the time, most of us will sit and sulk.”
By Matthew Hall
Daily Press Editor