Rachel Cromidas @rachelcromidas
4:47 PM CDT, July 23, 2014
Bike mechanics at Heritage Bicycles used fast Facebook sleuthing to help reunite a stolen bike with its owner Monday evening, Chicago police officials said.
Bike theft is common in the city—though exactly how common is hard to quantify—and stolen bikes are rarely recovered and returned to their owners, according to Lt. David Harris, a spokesperson for Chicago Police Department's news affairs.
That wasn't the case Monday evening, when police officers from the 24th District caught two juveniles in the act of trying to resell a stolen bike in a makeshift sting operation facilitated by friends of Heritage Bicycles, a custom bike shop in Lakeview.
The juveniles, whose names cannot be released by law, were charged with felony burglary and possession of stolen property after being arrested outside of the McDonald's on North Kedzie Avenue in Albany Park.
Managers at Heritage began tracking down the stolen bicycle, which was built in the shop, after receiving an email from a customer Monday morning saying his bicycle had been stolen from the basement of his apartment.
Later that day, Heritage mechanic Ben Fietz received an email from a friend of the store who noticed one of their bikes was for sale on the Facebook group “Chicago Bike Selling.” According to a blog post Fietz wrote about the recovery, traffickers notoriously sell stolen bikes on the group.
Derek Lewis, the bike operations manager at Heritage, said local bike mechanics periodically monitor Craigslist ads and Facebook posts for used bikes that may have been stolen, but it is rare to find a match.
“We keep an eye out for our friends’ possible stolen bikes,” he said. “But actually getting those kids to show up with the bike, and trying to snag it, and trying to get them before they’re sold or disappear, is very hard.”
The listing was written by what appeared to be a woman, according to a screenshot saved by Fietz. In the post, she claimed that her boyfriend purchased it for $799, but said it was too tall for him to ride. They were offering the bike for $200—far less than the value of the bike, which starts at $800 in the Heritage shop.
“Two hundred dollars is what the seat on that bike would have gone for at retail,” Lewis said.
The thieves had removed the bike’s brass bell and basket and flipped over its handlebars. But it was still recognizably the same bike, Lewis said.
Identifying a stolen bike is usually much more difficult, Harris said. "In my experience, the hardest thing with getting bicycles back is people don't have a way to prove it was their bike," he said. "I think, in this case, the bicycle was a high-end bicycle, so it was easy to spot."
Resale of Heritage’s bikes is rare, according to Lewis, because each one is built to custom fit each customer. Heritage’s employees felt galvanized to recover the bike, he said. Fietz spent several hours on the phone coordinating with police officers.
“We wanted to get this back for [our customer] and for us,” Lewis said. “I’ve been lucky enough not to have a bike stolen in five years, but many of my friends have, and all these feelings come up.”
Employees of Heritage Bicycles enlisted a friend and police officers from the 24th District, which covers Albany Park where the stolen bikes were located, to set up a fake sale. The sellers were trying to sell the bicycle quickly because it was evidently stolen property, Lewis said. “We were really, really nervous. They wanted to get rid of it ASAP.”
Five police officers, according to Fietz’s post, rushed the sellers who showed up to the meeting place Monday evening with the Heritage bicycle and another stolen bike that belonged to a different customer of another shop.
The successful makeshift sting was an opportunity to score a small victory for the entire cycling community, Lewis said.
“With more and more people riding in the city to get around every day, it’s starting to become a bit more serious of an issue for the average citizen,” he said. “They care about their bike, and they need it, and sometimes it’s somebody’s only form of transportation. And it’s awesome to see the police take this bike theft more seriously.”
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