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Bicycle thefts on rise in Palo Alto

Original post made on Apr 18, 2012

Numerous bicycle thefts have been reported throughout Palo Alto since March 28, police said Wednesday. "The thefts have been trending upward again -- definitely," Sgt. Brian Philip said.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 18, 2012, 4:21 PM

Comments (42)

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2012 at 5:05 pm

It would be interesting to know where these thefts were taking place.

It is hard to store a bike in a locked garage or shed unless they are at home. If they are used for transport they should be locked at destinations. So are the theives taking unlocked bikes from outside homes or are they taking bikes which are locked with cheap locks attached to posts (like the one in Mountain View recently).

We are getting better with providing bike parking around town, but if these are the places which are targeted by thieves, then what should be done?

Posted by Ron, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 18, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Most bikes have "knock off" front wheels. My suggestion is when you lock your bike to whatever, take the front wheel with you. Kinda hard to ride with just back wheel and if someone is wheeling your bike down the street, minus a wheel, it would be pretty easy to see.

Posted by where, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 18, 2012 at 6:04 pm

Where are the bicycles being stolen from? My understanding is that (in other cities at least), most bicycles are stolen from school bike racks and from home garages. Kids use cheapo locks that are easy to break with hand tools and security at school bike racks is terrible. Home garages may be locked, but the bicycles inside usually are not. Breaking a garage door is pretty easy. Sometimes thieves case out a neighborhood to see where high end bicycles get parked. Sometimes they will even follow people home, then steal their bicycle later that night.

Posted by Numbers, Please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2012 at 7:06 pm

The least the police could do would be to provide the actual number of bike thefts on a monthly basis. And .. given their "Lock It of Lose It" campaign, it would be even better if they would provide data on the number of bikes stolen that were unlocked, and the number that were locked.

Posted by Mike, a resident of University South
on Apr 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm

What to the thieves do with all of these used bikes? Sell them on eBay?

Posted by where, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm

The better quality bikes often are sold on ebay and Craigslist. If yours gets stolen, look for it there, but call the cops before you try to meet the "seller". Cheaper bikes are often sold at flea markets. Don't believe stories about stolen bikes being shipped overseas.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 18, 2012 at 11:10 pm

It seems a priority to try to make cikes more secure at schools when the policy is to encourage cycling.
I am not a cyclist, but I attended Gunn yrs ago (and I saw plenty of bikes there) and my kids attended Paly and they rode bikes sometimes.
Can someone comment on this: my recollection is that Gunn had (and still likely has) a very nice tall large bike cage (locked part of the day?) whereas Paly had (not sure current situation)basically no security whatsoever for bikes.
It's hardly news that bikes are stolen.

Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 18, 2012 at 11:11 pm

err, make that bikes.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2012 at 8:16 am

Paly has a locked bike cage, like the middle schools, but the system does not suit every student. The cage is locked once school starts and unlocked just before school ends. But, if a student has a free period so arrives late or leaves early, or if the student wants to use their bike at lunch time, it does not suit.

Posted by Mike Hedblom, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2012 at 10:29 am

The Crime Reports Web site (Web Link) allows you to view all reported crimes on an interactive map. You can filter the neighborhood, the crime, and the time span. It shows Thefts, but does not tell you "bike theft", for example.

Posted by resident, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2012 at 10:29 am

My daughter's locked bike was stolen from the Gunn bike cage.

Posted by Another Barron park resident, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2012 at 10:37 am

My daughter also said some bikes were taken from the Terman School bike cage. She did not know if they bikes were locked or not etc.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

The Paly bike cage is still filled with bikes so it works for most students. It's asking too much to have them unlock it at lunch to fit the needs of a few. My son just uses a U-lock and doesn't use the bike cage because there is no concrete within the bike cage, just dirt, and he doesn't like to have to set down his backpack on dirt.

The most vulnerable time for a bike is after school if your child plays sports or otherwise leaves it in the cage with no one around after school. I've heard of bikes being stripped or stolen when students are at their sports.

Jordan Middle School gets bikes stolen and messed with a lot. My daughter had to see her teacher for about 15 min. after class. She found her bike in the cage, knocked over. She rode it home and the brakes were rubbing the tire so we took it to a bike shop. Turns out, the handlebars were very loose. Someone obviously tried to strip her bike because there was no reason her handlebars should have been that loose. I am grateful, she didn't have a fall due it.

Not just us, but friends said their bikes are messed with at Jordan too. I heard sometimes they climb over the fence and strip bikes. It's such a visible location on North CA, and there is a sign stating there are cameras, so these criminals have no fear.

Note to parents on bike purchasing - don't buy a name brand due to thefts/vandalism. Students don't care about status bikes so it won't score coolness points. I bought my son a Trek and worried about it being stolen. I am actually glad it is old enough to look like a beater bike now.

Buy a U-lock and place it in the side water bottle pocket on the backpack. There used to be an issue with U-locks being opened with pens but no longer with the new U-locks.

Coil bike locks are easily, easily cut in a second.

Posted by where, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2012 at 10:54 am

San Francisco PD is using a variety of techniques to crack down on bicycle thieves and the crime rate is going down. What is Palo Alto PD doing? CBS News report: Web Link

Posted by Bade, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2012 at 11:04 am

It's easy to steal bikes from open garages. It's even happened that when a car with a garage-opening remote was left unlocked, a thief would use it to open the garage and steal bikes.

Posted by Numbers, Please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2012 at 11:15 am

> It's asking too much to have them unlock it at lunch to fit the
> needs of a few.

What if the school put the cage on an electric timer, so that it was locked and unlocked automatically? Would that be too much to ask?

Posted by where, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2012 at 11:22 am

Very common for thieves to use crowbars to break in to locked garages. Most people have very wimpy locks on their garage doors. When you're sleeping at home, you're not likely to hear someone break in to your garage.

Posted by Numbers, Please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2012 at 11:55 am

> but does not tell you "bike theft", for example

So what good is it relative to this discussion?

It's more-or-less common knowledge that the school district goes out of its way to keep the lid on crime on the school sites, if possible. Anyone have any idea if bike thefts from school property are reported to the Palo Alto police?

And what about recoveries? Are the police every recovering any of these lost bicycles?

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

I mentioned this several months ago about theft on the Stanford campus. There are nearly 400 bicycles reported stolen per year at Stanford. That is more than one bike per day. If the average cost of a bicycle is $300 (it is actually much higher on campus), then theft of bicycles alone from the Stanford campus is approximately $120,000 per year. And, of course, there are probably just as many bicycles that do NOT get reported as stolen.

My sister has had THREE bikes stolen on campus. All three were locked. All three were "registered." All three were easily identified (one had her name written with a Sharpie on the frame in big, bold letters). All three were kept in secure locations. Yet, all three were stolen by selfish criminal thugs.

Here is a funny sign from the Stanford Daily:

Web Link

It is common knowledge that bicycle theft has been a major problem on the campus for years. Many students, like my sister, cannot afford to keep providing a handful of jerks with the fruit of their criminal activity.

When we were registering the first bicycle on campus, I asked what the registration meant...and what the fees were supposed to accomplish. I was told that they are meant to prevent theft. I asked how many bicycles are "recovered." The officer laughed and said, "None."

It would be great to find a way to catch these thieves. They steal bicycles today. Next, it will be stealing cars or burglarizing homes. Criminology statistics show that theft often follows a "gateway" set of tiers. Petty thieves perpetually move on to more "valuable" things.

Sadly, when this is pointed out, there are always a handful of people who get angry and almost blame the victims. As a student, I was assigned to attend a few county probation department meetings. One of them included a court-ordered "anger management" class. One of the men sitting in the class argued that if someone didn't want their bicycle stolen, then "they should have bought a better lock."

In other words, the thieves almost feel entitled to things if you can't secure it enough. And, unfortunately, those thieves are often the same guys who pride themselves with being able to cut/pry any lock. It is a disgusting display of hubris.

It would be good if PAPD and the university police department could have more bike or Segway patrols around places where cars don't travel. Most bicycles at Stanford are stored away from the streets. The same is true of the bikes at PAHS. It would be great to see some uniformed officers patrolling those areas regularly, or just looking for suspicious activity.

If nothing is done, I fear that Palo Alto may see an increase of even worse criminal activity.

Posted by where, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2012 at 1:47 pm

I wonder if local bike shops and department stores are complicit in bicycle theft. They sell low quality bicycle locks that are known to be useless. A thief can snip them with common hand tools in a few seconds. The victim is then forced to buy a new bike, probably from the same stores that are selling these useless locks in the first place.

This is the same kind of scam that cell phone companies use, letting thieves create new accounts for known stolen cell phones. The Feds are starting to crack down on this, fortunately.

In Europe, stores are required to advertise the security level of the bicycle locks that they sell, e.g. the UK "Sold Secure" ratings. These ratings are based on independent laboratory tests. The ratings steer customers away from useless locks and some good ones are not very expensive. Why don't US bike shops do this? If a national level rating system isn't available, they can just use the UK system, since brands are mostly the same over here as over there.

The police department's "lock it or lose it" slogan is pretty useless when customers are uneducated about the uselessness of many locally sold locks.

Posted by Penny, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 19, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Like Your Bike? Lock It! A lock will deter the majority of thefts.

Buy a high quality bike lock
If you can't afford to lose your bike, a quality U-lock is a smart investment.
Inexpensive cable locks can be cut quickly with bolt or wire cutters. High quality locks are more secure.

Lock through your bike FRAME
Do not lock only through wheels, seat posts, or handlebars which can be easily removed.

Lock to a secure bike rack whenever possible
NOT to fence wire or a sapling tree which can be cut.
Get a bike license
In Palo Alto bikes are required to be licensed so police can identify bicycle owners in case of theft or injury accidents.
Purchase a bike license at any Palo Alto Fire Station 4-5p.m., 7 days a week. You must bring your bike.
For more information about how to lock your bike, go to Web Link

Posted by where, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2012 at 2:22 pm

Not all U-locks are good quality. The better ones are made from hardened steel. Cheaper ones are made from much softer steel which is very easy to hack saw. If you really value your bicycle, use 2 good quality locks: one for the frame and rear wheel and another for the front wheel. If you use 2 different types of locks (e.g. a U-lock and a chain lock), thieves will almost always leave you alone since they usually only carry tools to break one type of lock.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2012 at 6:23 pm

@ Penny:

Like I said, the officer at Stanford said that the "license" registration that people pay for accounts for ZERO recovered bicycles.

And, of course, it would be good to crack down on bike thieves too. My sister had several good locks -- including the U-lock that you mentioned. Somehow, these thugs are still able to steal.

I have no sympathy for the jerks who steal like this. If we could automatically lock them up for a year (at THEIR expense) for a first conviction and also bring immense ridicule to them, I would be happy. Of course, I would be happy to just send thieves like this to their own little "fantasy" island and let them fend for themselves.

Of course, I am being facetious. However, something needs to be done about the criminal epidemic that is plaguing our society.

Posted by disenchanted, a resident of Community Center
on Apr 19, 2012 at 6:39 pm

Mine was taken in the middle of the day from the train station - the lock was cut.

Posted by Outside Observer, a resident of another community
on Apr 19, 2012 at 7:29 pm

>> "something needs to be done about the criminal epidemic that is plaguing our society. "

We have the highest incarceration rate, and the highest recidivist rate in the developed world. The courts are backloged for years. The prisons are overflowing to the point that we have to turn criminals back on the streets, and everything is a crime now. Even victimless crimes.

What does it all mean? It means good times and expansion for the criminal justice industry. It's job security for all of them, at the expense of everyone else.

Until society reigns in the criminal justice industry, things will never improve.

Posted by where, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Bike thieves are awful and I wish that the cops would treat bicycle theft as seriously as they treat auto theft.

I am glad that the city has started installing quality bicycle racks around town. Much easier to secure your bicycle to these racks than to some of the older ones or to a sign post (if you could find one).

I know several people who won't ride their bicycles around town because they are more afraid of bicycle theft than of being hit by cars.

Posted by re: Nayeli, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 19, 2012 at 11:30 pm

Nayeli suggested that PAPD cops should do more bike patrols. Call 650-329-2413 and ask PAPD how many officers they have on duty. I think you will be very suprised.

Posted by Another victim, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2012 at 11:32 pm

My son lost his bike at Terman Middle School bike cage. It's a well-maintained and cared for 2006 Trek Mountain Bike, locked using a Kryptonite Mini U-Lock from REI. There were other bikes unlocked but for some reasons the thieves preferred his. He's very good about locking his bike, and a school staff who happened to be in the cage at the time even witnessed him lock it.

Posted by where, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 19, 2012 at 11:43 pm

Another victim - did the thieves saw through the Kryptonite U-lock? I would think that is hard to do without making enough noise to alert people.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 20, 2012 at 12:17 am

@ Outside Observer:

So, what is your solution? Do we just hand society over to criminals to do as they please?

There is definitely sociological and cultural components to crime in this country. To fix it, we can't whine about punishing those who DO commit the crimes. Rather, we have to find the solution to PREVENT crime. It isn't by giving individuals things that they should earn for themselves. Instead, I think that we have to reintroduce the concept of social responsibility and norms and the shame for breaking away from adherence to them.

It seems that bicycles thieves aren't deterred by prison, jail, or the current levels of shame associated with their deviance. So, other things must be tried to prevent such individuals from even contemplating criminal activity like this.

Posted by Numbers, Please, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 20, 2012 at 7:45 am

The Palo Alto Police now maintains an on-line web-page where people can make reports about problems which might demand a police response—which includes bike thefts. Currently, this information seems to be "write-only"—meaning that it disappears from public view. There really is no reason that this information should not be made public, at least without personal contact information—given the community some sense of how bad a problem bicycle theft is, for a given period of time.

This web-page should be enhanced so that people could upload pictures, or short videos, of their bikes. Additionally, there should be provisions made for QR codes, which no doubt will be used more in the future for personal identification. Such a database ought to have "back-end" support so that people can upload a QR code (.jpg image) and the web-page would search the open theft reports to see if anyone has reported such a bike missing—alerting the person uploading the QR code that this bicycle is probably stolen, as well as the responsible police officers responsible for assisting in the recovery of stolen property.

The Palo Alto Police are simply not using the Internet/Web very effectively.

Posted by JustMe, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 20, 2012 at 9:27 am

In reading the discussion of bike theft and vandalism in the Paly and Jordan bike cages, I have to wonder if anyone has thought of pointing a video surveylance system at those cages. I mean, you have a high crime rate in a very small (square footage) space, anyone messing with those bikes has to step into that small area. You are not talkng about covering the campus here, just that small area, and a couple of thefts prevented will easily compensate for the cost of the system. Four cameras would be great, two up close, two farther away to get the bigger picture. Has anyone contemplated doing this? At either school, it could be a student project.

Posted by Donald, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Video surveillance was suggested years ago, but the barriers to putting it in public schools are apparently insurmountable.

Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Good idea to write down the serial # of your bike and take a good picture of it. If it is stolen, post the picture on Craig's list and eBay as a STOLEN BIKE along with the serial # and description. Someone has to buy that bike, and if you have the serial # and post it, that person is more likely to help return it if they know it is stolen. Not all people are ok with being involved in a criminal activity, such as receiving stolen property. It may not stop this from happening, but it sure can't hurt. No sense in making it easy for crooks, and the same people are probably doing this for a living. Catch one, a lot of bikes are not stolen, at least while the perp is locked up.

Posted by Steve C, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 21, 2012 at 11:57 pm

@Niyeli. Eliminating any hope of returning to the workforce after a first offense is the modern equivalent of cutting off the right hand of the thief. We need to give at least the first offenders a chance to re-start, without having to stick with crime to survive.
That includes sealing arrest records, intervention in the form of educational opportunities, job placement, and yes, even money to survive on while training.
The alternative is to keep throwing money away on a for-profit, increasingly privatized prison system, which is rigged to provide more offenders, not fewer. The cost of that system is spiraling out of control, with no relief in sight. And simply euthanizing all criminals is not going to happen, no matter how many people secretly favor that solution. We are throwing good money after bad, and it is only going to get worse.
Outside Observer is telling it like it is. I doubt if he/she likes it that way, it's just the way it is.
The community college system took a 17% hit from the legislature two years ago, and more bad news is on the way. A lot of those dollars are ending up in the prison system, and in the pockets of private operators. Think about it. Where would you like your tax dollars to go?

Posted by Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 22, 2012 at 2:50 pm

@JustMe: Jordan has signs which state there are surveillance cameras at their bike cages.

Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2012 at 4:03 pm

@ Steve C:

Thanks for your response. Most of the things that were recommended here were done for my sister's bikes. We even engraved on the bottom of the frame, "If you read this, then this bike is lost. Please call us at xxx-xxx-xxxx."

Yet, none of these bikes were recovered. The officers on campus advised us that they will probably never be recovered. So, this is yet another victory for a small group of selfish thieves who prefer to steal than work.

I agree with the idea of sealing criminal records of first time crooks who have been arrested, served their time, paid back the victim AND the state for the cost of their crimes/incarceration and remained crime-free for a certain probationary period of time (7 years?). If they don't do this, then they shouldn't get off so easily. No one should have to hire a criminal simply because the state doesn't want to identify them for what they have done.

Instead of calling the prison system a "for-profit" system, we should simply change the system. Some criminals should expect the WORST. If they murder, rape, rob or assault others, then their living conditions should reflect it. Compared to most of the rest of the world, our violent criminal prisoners are living extremely well. After a certain period of good behavior, allow them to work their way (via good behavior AND good earning) to better conditions. And, they should NEVER go free if they haven't made some form of restitution to their victims.

BTW, I think that Jerry Brown is misleading the masses when he complains that higher education is taking such a funding "hit." The cost of education is going up, but so is the tuition (disproportionately so).

The reason that the cost of education is going up is ENTIRELY in terms of salaries and pensions. The costs of educational resources is nearly the same. The main difference is the ever-increasing employee benefits.

Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2012 at 4:44 pm

"The reason that the cost of education is going up is ENTIRELY in terms of salaries and pensions.
The costs of educational resources is nearly the same. The main difference is the ever-increasing employee benefits. "

Correct--3 rd level education needs healthy competition.

1/ End tenure which lets old geezers hang on with their 60s activism

2/ Re-engineer the system and make it valuable again via the Web--all MIT lectures and course material is free on line-for example

3/ Compress the BA to 18 months of intensive study-8 hours-5 days per week-49 weeks per year.--like real work

4/ Pay for results at all levels of education

Posted by Another victim, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2012 at 3:59 am


We don't know if they sawed the lock, picked it, or if they used a master key (somehow) because they took everything: bike, helmet, lock. Either way it seems that the lock is useless.

Posted by AllYouCanEat, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 23, 2012 at 9:48 am

Ive heard most of these bikes are being sent down to LA.

Posted by Jaco P, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 23, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I follow Sheldon Brown's method for locking bike's which advocates locking the rear rim through the rear triangle with a U-Lock. He explains the method with pictures and even details why this is the best method as opposed to locking through the frame.

Web Link

Posted by thefts, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

Here's a recent bike theft report from San Francisco. Web Link
Notice that all of the bicycles were stolen from locked home garages that were pried open. Thieves are not targeting bike racks anymore, unless your locking is real shoddy (as is typical at schools).

I wish the PAPD would report on exactly how bicycles were being stolen around the city. That will help residents defend against theft. Do we need better locks on their garages?

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