Law enforcement targets “rampant” bike thefts, but no one really knows how big the problem is

By Gary Walker

LAPD Det. Robin Salazar, with recovered stolen bikes  at Pacific Division headquarters, says bike thefts have been on the rise Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

LAPD Det. Robin Salazar, with recovered stolen bikes
at Pacific Division headquarters, says bike thefts have been on the rise
Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

There’s perhaps no better place and time to ride a bicycle than by the beach on a sunny day, but where there are bikes there are also bike thieves.

Crooks preying on distracted cyclists or those who fail to properly secure their bikes fueled an uptick in reported bicycle thefts within Westside neighborhoods this summer, LAPD Pacific Division Det. Robyn Salazar said.

“We’ve had a huge reduction in property crime [in Pacific Division], but bike thefts are really rampant,” Salazar said.

In August alone there were 17 reported bicycle thefts in Pacific Division territory, a period that included a slowdown at the end of the month.

But bike theft victims often do not report thefts to police, and many of those who do report thefts haven’t registered their bikes or recorded bicycle serial numbers, making it more difficult for police to gauge the actual number of bikes being stolen.

“Not everyone calls us after their bike is stolen. If everyone reported [stolen bikes], these numbers would be higher,” Salazar said.

In an effort to tackle the growing problem, Salazar said the LAPD has created a joint task force on bicycle thefts with Santa Monica and invited the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and Culver City Police Department to participate. The LAPD is also holding a bicycle registration drive this month.

Sgt. Yancy Walden of the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station said there is a team of deputies that work bicycle thefts around the marina.

“Nowadays with Craigslist, it’s easy to sell a stolen bicycle on the Internet,” creating greater opportunity for thieves to unload stolen property, Walden said.

Last year, deputies with the Marina del Rey Sheriff’s Station uncovered a bicycle theft ring that was operating out of the Ballona Wetlands, not far from the station on Fiji Way. The deputies also discovered evidence of stolen bicycle parts in other areas of the wetlands south of Lincoln Boulevard.

At the time, then-Marina station Capt. Reginald Gautt described the bike theft ring as fairly sophisticated but was unable to assign deputies to patrol the wetlands on a regular basis.

“We don’t have a lot of crime in Marina del Rey, but bike thefts continue to be a problem,” current Marina station Capt. Joseph Stephen said.

A city that’s leading the way in advocating bicycle ridership, Santa Monica has also drawn its share of bicycle thefts.

Santa Monica Police Sgt. Rudy Camarena said Santa Monica has also experienced a recent surge in thefts. In August, 55 bikes were reported stolen to SMPD.

“Bike riding increases during the summer months and we become a target-rich environment, so to speak,” Camarena said.

Due to its international reputation as a tourist destination, Venice Beach is also a natural location for bike thieves to congregate.

“Thieves seem to be able to find anyone who is willing to buy them, and a lot of bikes are rented at Venice Beach,” Salazar said.

Police have recovered stolen bikes worth several hundred dollars, Salazar said, and “we’ve even had electric bikes, which can be very expensive, stolen because they weren’t properly locked up or left outside against a pole.”

At Bike Attack Electric in Santa Monica, electric bikes can sell for between $1,000 and almost $6,000.

Besides properly securing bikes with a U-Lock or a hefty chain, police recommend memorizing bicycle serial numbers and “putting some type of identifying mark or object on them,” Salazar said, “and if you’re standing next to it, make sure it is within your reach.”

Kent Strumpell, a Westchester resident who represents the Westside on the Los Angeles Bicycle Advisory Committee, vouches for the effectiveness of U-Locks and started using them after having a bike stolen from the corner of Manchester Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard several years ago.

“Two of the components of bicycle safety are knowing how to lock your bike properly and having cities provide places where cyclists can safely lock their bikes,” he said.