DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - Standing in the shadow of the parking garage, the thieves waited patiently for a car to drive up and open the gate. With a bag of tools in hand, they slipped into the garage as the vehicle entered. They waited until the driver was gone, then approached the bike rack. They snapped several locks like they were breaking popsicle sticks.
A video caught the suspects sneaking into the garage and helped lead to one arrest for a crime that has become shockingly common in Downtown Los Angeles: Bicycle thefts have spiked 59% over last year, with 138 reported taken from Jan. 1 to May 2, according to statistics from the LAPD’s Central Division, which covers most of Downtown. During the same period in 2014, 87 bikes were stolen.
That means Central City riders are on pace to have more than 400 bikes stolen in 2015.
“We’re getting hammered on bike thefts,” said Lt. Armando Munoz. “Unless it’s a U-lock, they’re going to snap it.”
Restaurants, the Central Library and coffee shops are prime places for thieves to rip off bikes,said Munoz. Data show that most crimes happen on Thursdays, with thefts primarily occurring between noon and 6 p.m. (though incidents are reported every day and around the clock). The thefts are spread across Downtown. Stolen two-wheelers frequently wind up on Skid Row, where myriad individuals use them as “community bikes,” Munoz said.
Munoz attributed the spike to the effects of Proposition 47, passed by California voters last November. The effort, intended to reduce prison overcrowding by reclassifying six felony crimes as misdemeanors, has emboldened criminals, Munoz said.
“There are no real consequences for committing property crimes anymore,” he said. “The emphasis is on violent crime, not low-grade burglaries, and the criminals know this.”
The LAPD lacks the personnel to create units that target thefts of two-wheelers. Instead, they attempt to be proactive with a “Lock it, hide it, keep it” campaign on social media. A complementary effort is underway in South Park, where the South Park Business Improvement District has launched a pilot program in partnership with the LAPD for registering bicycles, said Executive Director Jessica Lall.
The move came after the BID’s security manager attended weekly crime briefings and took note of the rise in bike thefts. The registrations give officers a record of the bike if it is stolen and recovered.
Word of the thefts is spreading quickly. Daniel Menendez, who works at DTLA Bikes at 425 S. Broadway, said one or two customers a week walk in to say their bike was stolen. He added that someone enters nearly every day needing a seat or another piece of a bike that was taken.
One victim was Central City East resident Jack Diaz. He put his $800 bike in a locker at the Little Tokyo/Arts District Gold Line station, along with his lock, but there was nothing to affix it to inside the container. When he returned, he found that thieves had pried the bolts out of the ground and tipped over the container. He lost his bike, helmet, U-lock and pump.
“There really needs to be a grounding bar inside the containers, so you can lock your bike to it,” he said. He added that the bicycle was his sole mode of transportation and he will have to save up for another one.
Another victim was Josh Albrektson. He stowed his and his neighbor’s bikes inside a storage unit in his Downtownbuilding’s basement, but didn’t realize the door to the unit was ajar. While he never recovered his bike, another time he saw one of the repercussions of the crime spike.
“I had a guy offer to sell me a bike he was riding down Fifth Street,” Albrektson said.
At the Barker Block, video from the garage’s security camera helped police identify a 36-year-old woman who admitted being part of the crime, and who has been arrested, Munoz said. Police detained another suspect, but detectives released the man due to a lack of evidence, Munoz added. According to Russell Roney, president of the complex’s homeowners association, four bikes were stolen on two separate occasions within a three-day period last month.
Munoz warned that opportunity abounds for thieves.
“Downtown is a cherry orchard,” Munoz said. “You can be blind and stick out your hand and steal something. It’s a target-rich environment.”
How to Lock Your Bike
It may be impossible to stop a bike theft, but whatever Downtowners can do to deter crime helps. LAPD Lt. Armando Munoz said a U-lock is the most effective type of anti-theft device. However, don’t just snap it on, he advises. Instead, whenever possible, riders should remove the front tire and affix it to the body, then run the U-lock through both parts before securing it to a pole or other intractable object. Simply slipping the lock through the tire could mean you return to a missing frame.
Daniel Menendez, who works at DTLA Bikes, agrees that a U-lock is the best deterrent. He also suggests combining the lock with a cable lock for the frame and wheels.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2015