A theft ring targeting expensive bicycles is far more sophisticated than your standard Walgreens shoplifters, creating a new wrinkle for criminal justice advocates who prefer not to incarcerate non-violent offenders.
At first glance, today’s Chronicle story of two alleged high-end bicycle thieves seems tailor-made for the Recall Chesa Boudin movement: Both suspects have extensive burglary rap sheets (seven and thirteen arrests, respectively), both were on probation and not incarcerated, and both were arrested at Seventh and Market, an intersection that, in the words of the Chronicle, is “known to be the center of the stolen goods trade in San Francisco.”
But here’s the wrinkle — the oft-criticized district attorney did ask to incarcerate one of them over probation violations, but a Superior Court judge ruled the suspect should be released with GPS monitoring. The other suspect remains in jail. But the case serves as a microcosm for the merits and downsides of not jailing non-violent offenders, an issue that is one of the cornerstones of the criminal justice reform movement sweeping the country, and creating heated debates in the process.
“It raises tricky questions about incarceration,” Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the Chronicle. “Because so far we’ve been unable to release [the suspects] without them committing more crimes. And the question for reformers is, ‘What do we do with someone like that?’”
Mandelman’s district is the epicenter of a new and very specific niche crime wave targeting high-end and electric bicycles. In general, property theft is up 13% in that district over this time last year (though people were kind of shut in this time last year). But breaking into garages and stealing premium bikes has become a lucrative new racket. With fewer tourist rental cars packed with valuables, thieves now covet these thousand-dollar bicycles, which even if they’re locked up in a garage, the bikes can be easily swiped with the right tools of the trade.
“The perpetrators are often methodical, repeat offenders with tools and expertise,” according to the Chronicle. “They know how to drill holes and use wires to open garage doors; they don’t have the desperation of people who steal packages from porches, or even of the drug store shoplifters who grab toiletries from shelves and toss them into garbage bags.”
It is absurd to say that bike theft only became a problem once Chesa Boudin took office. Sidewalk “chop shops” have been a common sight since the early 90s when Republican Frank Jordan was mayor. But the new angle here is the theft of bikes via break-ins into homes, and those beauteous old Castro Victorians are easier to break into than many more modern houses. Some residents feel like breaking into their home is an inherently violent crime, even if there is no bloodshed. Because there certainly could have been bloodshed.
And this new crime niche is the latest source of bad blood between the district attorney’s office, and exasperated residents seeing their homes robbed and someone fixing off with their fixie.
Image: @kbobike via Unsplash