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Dear PoP – Witnessing Bikes Being Stolen

by Prince Of Petworth November 13, 2009 at 3:00 pm 64 Comments

“Dear PoP,

I just saw (last week) four kids ages maybe 12-14 at the Columbia Heights metro station in front of Potbelly’s with bolt cutters stealing one bike and trying to cut another one lose. There were plenty of people around which did not seem to disturb them. I just happened to walk by and they definitely realized I was noticing their ‘work’, but I was totally unsure how to react; whether to confront them or call the police. In the end I realized calling 911 would not get the cops there in time, and I was afraid of consequences directly approaching them. Where is the police when you need them? In the end I saw a police car in front of the target and ran over there, but there was no officer around. Maybe that threatened the kids as they were taking off once I got to the police car and left the attempt on the second bike unfinished (I got to meet the owner later on coincidentally, as she just came back and told her about her luck), but the other bike got taken. How would you react in such a situation and I am curious to hear other peoples suggestions on what could have been done maybe also to keep the other bike from being taken away?

I guess I will keep storing my different bikes with me in my flat.”

This is a very tough question. I think if it is daytime and there are many people around, it would be ok to confront them and say something like, “hey what are you doing? What’s going on?” or something like that. The video up top was done by two brothers in NYC who show exactly how easy it is to steal a bike without anyone saying anything in broad daylight. What do you guys recommend in this situation?

  • Markus

    Assuming it’s daylight and there was anyone around, I’d walk right up to the thieves, pull out my phone, and call 911 right in front of them.

  • Ohio Player

    “I was totally unsure how to react.” This is not the first post where someone has been too afraid to act. Whats the worst they can do to you outside one of the most popular metros in the DC area. Yell at you – maybe do the you wanna fight bit. Grow a pair.

  • Eric

    knowing alot of the kids I’ve run into. If you confronted them, they would probably smash you in the face with the bolt cutter, run and worry about the consequences later.
    Mainly cause there would be no consequences.

  • me

    I’d call 911 in front of them as well, if it’s just some punk kids and there are lots of people around. Even if the police don’t get there in time to apprehend them, maybe it’ll give them a scare and make them think twice before trying something like that again.

  • dcmom

    Yell – “what the hell do you think you’re doing?” while dialing the police. Your inaction, as well as the inaction of the others around you, is dumbfounding.

    When are we going to stop blaming the fact that the police aren’t around and take some action? I am not talking about being a vigilante, but come on we need to start at least saying something when we see this stuff going on.

  • Anonymous

    Great video. I’ve seen similar demos by thieves. Most onlookers are about as interested as if a car alarm were sounded. Bolt cutter is the preferred method — fits neatly in backpack, and backpack looks like something a cyclist might carry. Pretty clever to know how to find an AC source right on the street corner.

  • E-Rich

    Hey Player, you’re not in Ohio anymore. Daytime shootings in front of the Columbia Heights metro, or the surrounding blocks aren’t exactly unheard of. Of course people shouldn’t just tolerate crime, and maybe the writer should have done more, but you can’t just assume that those kids wouldn’t have been capable of doing the writer real harm.




  • Anon

    re: the kids, I think intervening is easier said than done. I expect the reaction you would get from the kids would be most likely what Eric said, a bolt cutter to the face.

    re: the video, if I saw some guy with safety equipment and a saw, I would think it’s either a) the owner of the bike who lost his key to lock or b) a city employee removing an abandoned bike.

  • Ned

    “Where is the police when you need them?”

    A phone call away. Next question.

    (But seriously, you can’t expect the cops to be literally everywhere, all the time. I think it’s common knowledge that they need at least a LITTLE assistance from the citizenry.)

  • EdTheRed

    “Don’t steal bikes, bro.”


  • CHisOK!

    Hey, here’s a question. Last year, I locked my bike to the bike rack in my apartment building using a U lock (D lock? I’m not bike savvy), and then accidentally flushed the lock key down the toilet (long story). I got the lock from a friend, who doesn’t have an extra key and didn’t register the lock.

    Am I shit outta luck on this one, or is there a way to get my bike unlocked and free somehow?

  • You could just start yelling “WHAT ARE YOU DOING???? THAT’S MY BIKE!!!!!!” and that’ll freak them out enough to get them to run.

  • Sick

    It’s just amazing what the kids in this city get away with. Makes me nauseous.

    Don’t approach any crook ever, it’s really really not worth the possibility of death from a bullet or face smash.

    Perhaps get into the protection of a crowd and start yelling, call 911 call 911, those kids are stealing bikes, maybe even with your back turned so they can’t see who is yelling, and perhaps they’d all flee. Perhaps just take a photo from a safe place using your cell phone. Or find one of our big manly heroes that sometimes rise to the occasion and ask him for assistance.

  • Anonymous

    Wait, let me get this straight, you’re watching kids steal bikes in broad daylight, and you’re not sure what to do? WTF? What kind of dumbass wimpshit are you? You yell at them or call the fricking cops? Jebus, people like you are a serious part of the problem.

    If I was the guy who lost the bike to these kids, I’d want to kick your lazy ass right after I kicked the kid’s asses.

  • Larry

    You don’t have to be within striking distance to yell at or about them. “THIS KIDS ARE STEALING BIKES” might do the trick, or “STOP TRYING TO STEAL BIKES”, or “POLICE POLICE POLICE WE NEED POLICE HERE HELP HELP” or whatever. All while calling the damn police, for crying out loud.

    It’s amazing how complacent and/or scared everyone is— enough already.

  • Anonymous

    my ‘?’ should have been a ‘!’

    As in:

    ” You yell at them or call the fricking cops!”

  • Larry

    or “Those kids” rather.

  • longley

    Really? So passive, “but the other bike got taken” – No, you watched the other bike get taken and seemingly did absolutely nothing. I’ve had bikes stolen, and felt incredibly personally violated. Why not yell “those kids are stealing bikes” from a safe distance? Maybe someone else around would be comfortable confronting them. It’s so depressing to read about people who sit back and do nothing, letting bad people go on hurting good.

    To be learned – all the bike owners out there should at minimum have a u-lock.

  • Anon

    @EdTheRed was that a mime regulating the bike thief?

  • GeorgiaAve

    That stupid f**k who sent the email owes the owner of the “taken” bicycle a few hundred bucks. FREAKING IDIOT. Shame on you.

  • skeedattle

    What E-Rich said. Expecting punk kids to behave rationally if you yell for help while they attempt to steal a bike in broad daylight in a usually very crowded part of town is pretty naive. Some hesitation is warranted before confronting these punks. I do think moving off a safe distance and calling 911 would have been anonymous enough and possibly effective. I think that’s about the most anyone could expect of someone in this particular situation (1 bystander against 4 punk kids in Columbia Heights–and yes, even 12 year olds can pack a punch…4 even moreso). Easy enough to say you’d be a badass.

  • Steve

    Absolutley saw something. Anything. I think they will bolt in shock of actually being scolded. Stand prepared in a posture to defend yourself. Take the city back. Don’at let these little shits ruin you life. You don’t have to take it.

  • Steve

    Opps….I meant “say” something. Sorry!

  • asl

    With adrenalin, I’d probably do something stupid like stand in front of the thief as he tried to ride away or even knock him down, but it would be a stupid move. It’s a thing, after all.


  • Charlie Jones

    a lot of you are assuming too much about these kids.

    yelling “might do the trick” or will “freak them out enough to get them to run.”

    really? do you know that for sure? as has been documented all over this site, people are shot or stabbed in broad daylight on busy streets all over this city. if i ever see anyone’s bike get stolen, i’ll call the police but certainly will not approach the kids. i’m not dying for a bike. it’s a bike people.

    no one asked you to lock your bike up in public. you choose to do it yourself. every time you lock your bike up you are weighing the risks. if you are afraid of getting it stolen, ride a $100 bike like i do. if it gets taken, no big deal

  • ogden

    I’m with all the others who’ve said–how can anyone really wonder what to do when they witness a crime?

    Police are never going to be everywhere they are needed all the time. But even if the kids run off before you the police arrive, you can give them a description of the kids and the bikes they stole and the direction in which they ran.

  • asl

    Except for blaming the victim, Charlie is right.

  • WDC

    I might “stand up” to kids in this neighborhood if I were armed and coldblooded enough to use a gun on a 12-year-old when he turned on me. These children are feral. Do you know what that means? It means completely and utterly unsocialized. They are without empathy or any inkling of right/wrong. You can recognize the really dangerous ones because THEY’RE STEALING BIKES IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. These are not the mischievous scamps you grew up with in Mayberry. They will not “bolt in shock” when scolded. I think the bolt-cutter-to-the-face picture is the more likely one.

  • Charlie Jones


    sure, it’s a little “blaming the victim”. but i see it more as part of the cost of owning and parking a bike in this city. it might get stolen.

    i’m no economist, but i feel like there has to be something with personal value of owning a bike, theft risk, replacement costs, etc..

  • Anonymous

    “Where is the police when you need them?”

    Hey, dumbass, they’re only a phone call away, but you have to call them. They aren’t dispatched through telepathy or some sort of advanced technology a la “Minority Report.”

    Whoever watched this happen without doing anything, not even calling 911 from a safe distance, is pathetic and irresponsible.

    What if a neighbor saw someone breaking into your house or car (or bike, for that matter) but was so conflicted that he consciously chose to not even call 911 and instead e-mail PoP after the fact to solve this dilemma? Wouldn’t you be pissed knowing that someone could have stopped the crime?

    Karma’s a bitch, and it’ll come back to the person who watched this happen but did nothing.

  • Steve

    That’s why you take a prepared definsive posture out of reach. I really don’t give a crap any more. I call these little thugs out on dealing and smoking dope in public, littering. If I see crap I will call them on it. If they want to go after me, bring it on. Don’t let the little mop headed bullies ruin your life, I am certainly not going to let them ruin mine.

  • ontarioroader

    I don’t know who I’m more ashamed to have as a neighbor – bike thieves or people who do nothing as a crime occurs right in front of them.

  • cookietime420

    I once walked by a guy at Ct. and T with wire cutters slowing working through a wire lock. I said to him “is that your bike?” He said “yea, I lost the key.” I walked 5 feet and turned around. Our eyes met. He was hating me. I walked away.

    Was I willing to get into a fight on behalf of some dumb ass who locked his bike up with a wire lock? Hell no.

  • t.n

    Carry some plastic zip ties and make a citizen arrest.

  • Hilarious

    You were really even weighing your options to call 911 when you saw some cheap bikes being stolen? Are you serious? LMAO.

  • Pennywise

    I’d say call 911, I’d bet the police would get there soon enough. Were it me I would walk right up to them and start questioning them as I call 911. Our local criminals are generally cowards, kids included, they don’t do stand up fights they only do ambushes and mob beat downs when they have the advantage. I bet in this case they’d scatter, grinning broadly, as an adult finally pays attention to them.

  • Kathryn

    Unless you have the training to confront the punks, i.e., you do this for a living, your sanest course is to make the 911 call out of reach. A picture or video would also be appreciated by the cops if you can do it quietly. There will be no support or sympathy for you from the cops if you make a scene over property.

  • Angry Parakeet

    I saw that happen across the street on a Sunday morning. A neighbor yelled at them and said she was calling the police; I called police – it was taking the brats a while to break the lock with a hammer. The police never came, the thief laughed in glee with his friend as they quickly left. I would expect to 1. be hit by the thief’s hammer 2. Since he would know where I live, he would retaliate later in some way.

  • livedincohionce

    I’m all for defending our neighborhoods, but it is at your own risk…

    I once stopped my car to yell at a group of four young kids who were throwing bottles and rocks at a homeless man who was walking up 13th Street between Harvard and Irving. As I pulled my car over, one of them threw a brick through my rear window. I jumped out of the car and chased them down Harvard Street towards 11th. As I was running after them (and yelling), a light blue Crown Vic with tinted windows rolled up next to me, and as the window came down I was relived to see a police officer and not some guy with a gun pointed at me. He sped ahead and penned three of the kids in a yard while I pulled the other out from underneath of a parked car. Talk about an adrenaline rush. I was lucky that the cop in the unmarked car just happened to be passing by when I was chasing them. But in that part of the neighborhood, it could have just as easily been some kid with a pistol looking out for his friends.

  • t.n

    ok, the first solution i provided was dangerous, what i may do, is use my own bike lock to relock the bike they are trying to steal? THEN call the police, i dont want anyone getting in a dangerous confrontation

  • t.n

    Im carrying zipties and using them on the bike if i see this.

  • Marcus Aurelius

    Any and every law enforcement officer will tell you that if you see a crime occurring, DON’T try to be a hero. Call the police and make a report. If the crime is an attack on a person and you feel you can assist without getting hurt, your call on whether or not to jump in. But if you’re talking about property crime, call the police. And wait for the police to arrive so you can give them a description of the criminals. Ideally you can also show them the photos or videos you shot with your cell phone.
    There is no shame in not physically confronting someone that is committing a crime. There are people out here who would just as soon kill you as look at you. Unless you are a trained law enforcement officer, you have no obligation to intervene in a way that puts your life in danger. If you feel confident enough to do so, more power to you. But if not, there is no shame in that.

  • NP

    People talk big on the internets

  • I would disable the kids with judo chops, then fly to the West Bank and singlehandedly solve the Mid-Eastern crisis. FOR I AM THE BIGGEST TALKER ON THE INTERWEB!

  • t.n

    I second Totochtin, though i would use my eye lazers.

  • t.n

    Matter of fact, ill be everyones martyr and offer them my bike. you can thank me in heaven.

  • Eric

    Look, I would love if you could actually grab the kids and hold them till the cops come. A neighbor did that to some kids who were tagging his porch. Half the block wanted to kill the guy cause the next thing you heard was some white guy grabbing up some neighborhood kid and pushing him. Its a no-win situation. Even talking to the parents didnt seem to work.

  • Anonymous

    I think that there is middle ground here between confronting the crooks and doing nothing. If we want to make a difference in our neighborhood, then we can’t sit by while these kids commit crimes with impunity. That said, confronting them is a terrible idea. It is not worth risking your life over a bike.

    So, maybe this is the chance to establish a basic standard operating procedure for people in the community who witness crimes like this being committed. Here are my thoughts on what should the OP have done:

    1) Retreat to a safe distance and call the police.

    2) Note the clothes and hairstyles the kids are wearing so that you can give a detailed description to the police when they arrive.

    3) Take a photo or video with your camera phone ONLY IF you can do it discreetly and without putting yourself in danger.

    4) Note which direction the kids go afterwards.

    5) If you have the police on the phone and they are on the way, consider following them ONLY IF you can do so from a safe distance.

    How’s that for a start? Can we all agree that if we see a crime being committed, we will take the time to actually report it to the police, even if that means waiting around for them to show up and take a statement?

  • Shawn

    Wow, thank god the internet tough guys are here to call people dumbasses and wimpshits!

    Many good comments have already been made. If these kids are bold enough to steal bikes in crowded areas in daylight, who knows what else they are capable of. What makes you think you could spook them by yelling at them? What makes you think that outcome is any more likely than getting stabbed or bashed or jumped? Or maybe just remember your face for the next time they see you in the neighborhood when you’re not in front of a crowd?

    Young people can be especially irrational and unpredictable. The parts of their brains that allow them to think about consequences aren’t even fully developed yet.

    One person I went to high school with decided to get tough with some people that were trying to mug him and he ended up getting stabbed in the face and scarred for life.

    It’s great if people can find a safe way to prevent crime or take action that they are comfortable with, but no one has any obligation to confront potentially irrational, unpredictable and violent criminals and risk their own safety and lives.

    Here is a list of all the skinny-jeaned espresso sipping internet tough guys posting in this thread from their luxury condos: Ohio Player, Anon 3:36 pm, Larry, GeorgiaAve, Anon 4:29, ontarioroader

  • GeorgiaAve

    Hi Shawn. I’m a 29 year old white woman, but that was a nice little generalization there. Good job, winner.

    The teenagers who hang in front of the liquor store on the corner by my house disperse when I walk by. A few months ago, one of them called me “sweetass” and I punched him in the balls so hard he was still floored 10 minutes later when I came by on my way home. I’m done being scared of piece of crap teenagers, I’m just sick of doing it. I’m moving on. If that means I die in the process, so f-ing be it.

    For crying out loud, stand up for yourself and other people. This is seriously ridiculous. No one is telling you to kick anyone in the balls and risk being stabbed or shot or whatever, but do something. This email to PoP is beyond absurd, and the emailer SHOULD be made to feel ashamed.

  • ontarioroader

    Hi Shawn – 39 year old DC native here. Ex-Marine, Ex-cop, and currently a Firefighter. I too appreciate the nice generalization, but all I ask is that others who claim to give a damn about their neighborhood and neighbors call 911 and be a half-decent witness, which this original poster couldn’t even bring themselves to do.

  • Anonymous

    This is not a hard calculus to make people. You see a crime being committed, CALL THE FUCKING COPS. How hard is this to figure out? Cripes. Do it from a safe distance. Use your goddamn cell phone, it’s not tough unless you are a complete wimpshit. No one is asking you to grab the punkasses by the collar and take them down yourself. But if you don’t even have the stinking balls to call the cops from a distance, then you have no right to ever bitch about crime in this city again.

  • EKM

    Props to GeorgiaAve from a 34 yr. old white chick. I would have yelled from 8-10 feet away and called 911. I’ve live in DC for 15 years and plan on spending the next 15 years here. I don’t plan on being a coward in the process.

  • StubsDC

    I’m a 32 year old white woman who wouldn’t have a clue what to do in a fight, but there were four punk kids on the metro the other day mouthing off to me and an old lady because they wanted to blare their music out loud and we pointed out that we didn’t have to listen to their crap they call music. I locked eyes with one of them while I called Metro police, and then followed them to make sure the police knew who they were looking for. All he did was give them a warning, but these punks need to know they aren’t in charge. Was I scared of what they might do? A little. But I am sick to death of these punk ass kids and their nonsense and its time they know the rest of the us aren’t putting up with it anymore.

  • over the summer in the 7th Street CitySports here in Chinatown, five teens came into the store to cause trouble by mouthing off, feigning like they were going to make off with merchandise and generally threatening the sales staff verbally. these were rough, unsocialized kids. I didn’t say much because it was clear the manager was on to them and keeping an eye on the situation. one of them threatened the sales guy helping me buy new running shoes and that’s when I stood up and told her that she doesn’t talk that way to people. it really caught her and her buddies by surprise that someone stood up to her. these folks thrive on intimidation…take it away and you take away their sense of authority.

    it’s totally one’s own call whether or not to say something or do something because some criminals will be armed. if you feel comfortable doing it, I say take ’em on.

  • victoria

    Wow – disturbing responses – gone very “Heart of Darkness” here. There is plenty of room between ball-kicking and tail-tucking. Young thieves/thugs, even those emboldened by being in a group (i.e. feral natives) are not going to whomp you in the head with their bolt cutters, and 90% of the time will actually respond to being talked to like a human.

    Though the worst of them are tragically quick to shoot each other, they are not likely to mow you down in the street for scolding them.

    I’ve live in CH for 22 years and have always – ALWAYS – confronted crimes in progress (except the couple of times there were actual shoot-outs or knife-weilding delusional people in my hallway.)

    This includes everything from kids throwing rocks, setting fires, torturing cats, disrupting the bus, breaking into cars, harassing women, fist-fights and a 30+ gang rumble in which guns were pulled. (OK – I was just yelling out my 4th floor window for that one.)

    My approach has always been to confront directly, calmly, with authority but without threat. “What are you doing? Why are you doing that? What do you think is going to happen if you do that? Would you want someone to hit your little brother in the head with a rock? Do you think someone should say that, do that, to your mother, sister, grandma? Would this make your mother proud?”

    I can wear their little gangsta asses down and have actually made some cry. Yeah – I hear a lot of you scoffing – but until you all get over your “marauding visagoth” mentality there is no hope of real community or peace.

    And as for the bike stealing video – it’s just stupid. Here is a long-legged guy who looks like he owns this long-legged bike and is cutting it free with tools in broad daylight. I might talk to him – “Do you need some help with that?” and call police if I then felt suspicious, but really – how many of you could prove you owned your bike and just lost the key to the lock?

    What if it was a black guy?

  • Meridian PL

    The day I moved into my condo in August some punk kicked in the window of my car and stole a boat load of stuff (that’s the last time I leave anything in my car). A guy across the street witnessed the whole thing, and about 10 minutes after he said it happened I came outside to discover the situation. The guy said he was contemplating calling the police when I came out. Contemplating? WTF? For 10 minutes? What could possibly deter somebody from dialing 3 numbers and then briefly explaining to a cop what you saw? Somebody explain this to me.

  • t.n

    well played victoria

  • Zuckerman

    White people are afraid of black people. It’s that simple.

  • Anonymous

    Zuckerman Says:
    White people are afraid of black people. It’s that simple.

    you should get new friends who aren’t as stupid.

  • Neener

    It’s time to stand up against our oppressors. It’s long past time to stand up against our oppressors in this community. I call 911 all the time on the people who have systematically been trying to oppress me since I moved here. I will not let some uneducated, ugly, grammatically-challenged, trashy-dressing, smelly, never-shampoos-their-hairdo jerks continue to oppress our community.

    Throw off your chains and call the police on the gangstas oppressing you. grow a pair.

  • Neener

    If these kids are bold enough to steal bikes in crowded areas in daylight, who knows what else they are capable of. What makes you think you could spook them by yelling at them? What makes you think that outcome is any more likely than getting stabbed or bashed or jumped? Or maybe just remember your face for the next time they see you in the neighborhood when you’re not in front of a crowd?

    By the way you write it’s clear that you have no experience dealing with this. Really, some of us have direct experience confronting kids. Leave it to us to comment. They’ve run from me or slinked away calling me the f-word every time. I don’t go out of my way to do this, but I’ve told a kid to his face that “he lost his [street name] privileges and the next time I see him on this street he’s going to have to deal with “my family” which I hoped sounded enough like Italian Mafia for him never to come back. He has come back, but he has never hung out on the sidewalk again AFAIK.

  • Eryn

    To the person who submitted this to PoP:

    If I recall correctly, I’m the bike owner who had just come out to retrieve her bicycle, and you (or some other very nice couple) approached me about how a group of kids had almost stolen my bike. Indeed, once I got home I noticed that my lock was mostly (but not completely) hacked through, and I’ve since gotten myself a new, sufficiently bad-ass U-lock.

    I want to thank you for doing something (even a small something) to dissuade them from taking my bike, since at the time I was particularly confused and worried when you approached me and didn’t adequately thank you. In the future, I for one will try and be brave about taking action if I ever see anyone trying to steal bikes. Even if it’s not a direct confrontation, any sort of loud distraction or drawing of attention to the situation certainly can’t hurt.

    Thanks again – I’m glad I have people like you as neighbors!

    -Eryn, the girl from CH who happily still has her blue and silver bike

  • Jeanne

    I surfed over here from a link on the WashCycle blog. It’s incredible that people who live in Petworth and park at the CH metro (or anywhere in the neighborhood, for that matter) are using CABLE locks! People, those locks simply aren’t strong enough for this city, or for any area where bike theft is a major problem. Please get a u-lock, and then lock your bike appropriately: http://www.sheldonbrown.com/lock-strategy.html


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