Chasing my stolen bicycle - Page 5

Enter the urban underworld of open-air chop shops, steal-to-order thieves, and brazen fencing networks, where San Francisco's most pervasive crime is ignored by the authorities
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Chen didn't hold out much hope of getting it back, but he put up flyers around the neighborhood anyway.

The next day Chen got a call from a friend who said he saw a portion of the distinctive bike behind the Safeway at Potrero and 16th streets. Chen went down to the spot and found a group of guys with an RV, a handful of bicycles, and a pile of bike parts. His bike was there — sort of.

"The frame was in one place, and the pedals were on another bike. Other parts were on other bikes. I pointed to all the stuff that was mine and had them strip it. My frame had already been painted silver," Chen told me.

Not surprisingly, one of the men said he had bought Chen's bike from someone in the Civic Center. Chen just wanted his bike back, so he forked over $60. The guys handed him a pile of parts in return.

WHERE BIKES GO TO DIE

A few days after the trip to Golden Gate Park, I finally got around to doing what I should have done when my bike was stolen: file a police report. Frankly, I waited because I held out little hope the police would be of any help.

It's true few people get their bikes back through the police, but that's in part because most people don't try. In fact, the police are sitting on a cache of stolen bikes so big that it dwarfs the stock of any bike store in the city.

SFPD Lt. Tom Feney agreed to show it to me, so I trekked out to Hunters Point. The police stolen property room is located in an anonymous-looking warehouse in the Naval Shipyard. Feney ushered me through a metal door to the warehouse and then swept his hand through the air as if pointing out a beautiful panorama.

"There it is," he said.

Behind a 10-foot chain-link fence topped with razor wire, row upon row of bikes stretched along the floor of the warehouse. There were children's bikes with hot pink paint, $2,000 road bikes, and everything in between. In all, the police had about 500 stolen bikes in the warehouse. The bikes are found abandoned on the street, recovered from stings on drug houses, and removed from bike thieves when they are busted. Many of the bikes aren't stolen — they've been confiscated during arrests or are evidence in various cases. The department can't return the stolen bikes because the owners haven't reported them stolen. After holding them for 18 months, the police donate the bikes to charity.

I intently scanned up and down the rows looking for my bike. I didn't see it. My last, best chance for finding it had disappeared. My heart dropped knowing my Fuji Touring was gone. Feney ushered me out the door, and I began the long, slow walk back to the bus stop.

The most frustrating part is that it doesn't have to be this way. Police and bicycle groups said there are some simple steps city officials could take to cut down on bike theft, but the issue has long slipped through the cracks.

Officer Romeo de la Vega, who works the SFPD's Fencing Unit, said he proposed a bike registration system a few months ago, but it was shot down by the police brass. De la Vega said he was told there simply weren't enough officers available to staff the system. Under his plan cyclists would register their bike serial numbers with police. In return the cyclists would get a permanent decal to place on their bikes. De la Vega said this would discourage thieves from stealing bikes since it would be clear they were registered, and it would speed bike returns.

With police officials claiming there are few resources to combat bike theft, it seems logical they might reach out to the community for help. But officials with the SFBC report just the opposite.

"In the past we've tried to connect with the police to jointly tackle the problem, but we haven't had much luck.

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