How two bicycle cops recovered a stolen bike in Cal Anderson

Seattle Police this week shared a rare story of the recovery of a stolen bicycle in Cal Anderson Park — and, thanks to a hard-working website, the return of the bike to its thankful owner.

The story starts with officers on patrol inside the Capitol Hill park last Saturday:

Officer Drew Fowler, a long-time cycling enthusiast, asked the man about his pricey silver Cannondale, and became suspicious when the man said he’d bought it from a website for $400–about one-tenth of its retail value.

Officer Fowler (pictured right) and his partner Jose Silva asked the man if they could take a look at the bike’s serial number, and he obliged. Officer Fowler quickly signed up for an account on Bikeindex.org and discovered the bike’s owner had listed it as stolen.

Police say the suspect was booked into jail for investigation of the theft and referred the case to mental health court. SPD’s full account of the incident is here.

The Seattle Bike Blog points out three important lessons for Capitol Hill bike owners:

  • First, it is very hard to get someone on bike theft, but much easier to get someone on the lesser crime of possession of stolen property. Even when someone has a stolen bike and a set of bolt cutters in his backpack (as with this case), it’s still impossible to prove he was the person who stole it without witness or video/photo evidence of the theft itself.
  • Second, there is a gray area in the stop and search phase. In this case, SPD says the man gave the officer permission to look at the serial number. But what if he had said no? Simply appearing “sketchy” is not (and should not be) cause for a search. Perhaps this is where Bike Index can help again. If an officer runs the make and model of the suspicious bike on their phone and finds a stolen listing, should that be enough cause for a stop and search?
  • Third, recovering bikes is awesome, so thanks to Officer Fowler for seeing this one through.

Given how the Cal Anderson recovery played out, it also helps to have a recognizably awesome bike, apparently.

Check out bikeindex.org to register your ride. The most recently reported stolen bikes around Seattle are listed here.

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

5 thoughts on “How two bicycle cops recovered a stolen bike in Cal Anderson

  1. BikeIndex works! My bike was stolen from my old apartment, and it turned up in another apartment garage on Capitol Hill. The property manager ran the serial through the website, contacted me, and the bike is back. If you haven’t registered your bike yet, do it soon – costs nothing!

  2. I find it interesting that SPD chose to book this person on a felony investigation charge (which lands you in jail without bail or bond for 3 business days) while the person with my bike rode it right past an SPD officer and I, we followed him and he was stopped, yet he wasn’t arrested because there was no way to determine that he was the one who stole it vs. “I bought it 5 minutes ago for $20 from some guy on the corner.” My bet is that SPD knows the felony charge will go nowhere.