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Nabbing Stolen Bikes on the ’Net

Victim creates grassroots resource

By Feoshia Henderson · October 5th, 2011 · News
A short scroll down the Cincinnati Stolen Bike Network’s Facebook page reveals tale after tale of bicycles swiped outside of workplaces, bars and garages around the city. Some were stolen in the dark of night, some in broad daylight.

Unfortunate owners post photographs of their beloved bikes and their relevant stats: make and model, color, unusual identifiers (like stickers or a broken pedal) and sometimes a serial number.

Each bike holds a special place in its rider’s heart as a main source of transportation around the city, a treasured family hand-me-down or just a fun weekend toy. And each owner has turned to the Cincinnati Stolen Bike Network in the hope that, just maybe, someone will spot their pilfered bike and return it.

The network was created by Over-the-Rhine attorney Casey Coston, who knows exactly what it feels like when a thief makes off with a bike. Coston’s was stolen last summer in front of the Emery Building in Over-the-Rhine during an evening pub crawl.

“I’d left it locked up ... and the next day it was gone. I put out an all points bulletin with friends, and that’s when we set up the Stolen Bike Network Facebook page,” Coston says. 

The page now has 538 “likes,” or folks connected to it via Facebook.

Awareness of the page is growing organically and its latest stats show it getting just over 108 visits in a week.

“The page was a way to raise awareness not just for my bike, but for the whole issue of bikes getting pinched in the neighborhood,” Coston says. “It adds another set of eyes and also serves as a sounding board. If nothing else it is a bit of a steam valve for people that feel pretty much helpless.”

Recent FBI statistics show an estimated that 1.5 million bicycles are stolen across the United States every year, according to the National Bike Registry. The registry is a web-based database of stolen bikes maintained by a BoomerangIt, a security ID tag company that works with local law enforcement to help recover stolen bicycles. It can be difficult to track and recover these bikes because only about one-third are ever reported as stolen. Nearly half of stolen bikes are recovered by law enforcement, but owners can’t be tracked down, according to BoomerangIt. 

That was the case for Coston, who didn’t report his bike stolen because he thought it was a waste of scarce police resources. Pages like the Cincinnati Stolen Bike Network are part of a concerted effort in the hardcore biking community that rely on the community itself to keep their eyes open for stolen bikes.

And that’s just what happened when Coston found his bike.

A week after it was stolen, a friend spotted his vintage red Raleigh three-speed while taking a walk along Main Street on a Saturday. His friend sent him an email telling Coston where it was, locked up outside a local homeless services shelter, just a couple of blocks from where it was snatched. Police said they couldn’t recover the bike because it wasn’t reported stolen, so Coston and some friends decided to exact some well-planned vigilante justice.

“We met at the bike and my friend brought some (bolt cutters) to cut the lock,” Coston says. “As we did, a guy came out (of the service shelter). He said it was his bike. Then, upon questioning and much stammering by him, he said it was his friend’s bike. We asked to go see his friend. He said he was going to the bathroom and walked to an alley across the street. I cut the lock and rode off.”

Although his bike was recovered, others are still looking. Coston’s unsure of the recovery rate for the page, but figures it gives owners another outlet for reaching out. Those posting to the page so far mostly have been clustered in the downtown, Over-the-Rhine and Clifton areas, but other posts are popping up from Northern Kentucky and as far away as Louisville.

Meanwhile, Coston isn’t taking any chances. He now secures his bike with a heavier-duty U-Lock, and it’s been safe ever since.



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