The Bicycle Thief

Fortunately, some of these hustlers on Huffys give telltale clues to their criminal activities.

Author Dean Scoville Headshot

I'm not talking Vittorio De Sica's 1948 titular classic (it's an art film for those of you who find Dennis Miller's cultural allusions similarly challenging). I'm talking the whole panorama of dirtbags on dirtbikes...and mountain bikes...and so on.

Sometimes, it's a byproduct of criminal happenstance: When a guy has his driver's license suspended, he has to get around somehow. This reality is true for the probationer and parolee alike.

Other times, the conveyance is a conscious concession to a modus operandi. While not capable of exceeding the speed of the average Vega, bicycles allow their riders greater mobility and accessibility. This, in turn, means that they can be used to exploit the limitations of other conveyances like, say, your patrol car.

Unlike vehicles, bicycles can be readily abandoned, generally without fear of exorbitant cost or being traced back to a suspect's address by some database inquiry.

Suspects can ride past the front of locations, scouting for residents tending their yards, then swing around to the rear alley to attempt a break-in from the rear of the location. Bike trails make it easy for sexual predators and purse thieves to find unwitting victims.

Not only are bicycles suspect-friendly, they can be officer-deadly.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Michael Hoenig was on traffic patrol in the early morning hours in Lynwood, Calif., when he followed a suspect on bicycle into neighboring South Gate. He stopped the suspect in front of a driveway, at which point the suspect fired a shot through the rear passenger window. The suspect then approached the rear of the patrol car where he fired at least six more shots. Hoenig was wearing a ballistic vest, but was struck several times in the upper body, sustaining a fatal neck wound.

Fortunately, some of these hustlers on Huffys give telltale clues to their criminal activities. You spot a cyclist encumbered with trash bags and pillow cases. Do you think he might be a burglar? You detain and search a rider who has more coins on his person than a Vegas slot machine primed for payoff. Have there been a series of vending machine break-ins nearby? You see a guy on two wheels almost take a face plant into the side mirror of a parked truck. More than one suspect has sustained injuries because they were more concerned about keeping an eye on the cop than on where they were going.

Another plus is that bicyclists are often subject to the same vehicle code laws as their engine-driven rivals. This means rules of the road and maintenance matters (e.g., lights) offer all manner of probable cause to find out what they're up to.

On one of the innumerable property alarm calls I rolled on as a patrol deputy, I drove onto a cul-de-sac and saw a young man riding a bicycle. As it was a Saturday afternoon and the man had just ridden out of a closed business district and off the street where the alarm was activated, I detained him. While he did not have anything of particular value on him, I nonetheless transported him to the alarm call where I found a window smash break-in.

I had the bicyclist standby while I waited for the business owner to respond. When he arrived, he said he could only find one thing missing.

A bicycle.

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Author Dean Scoville Headshot
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