Bike theft persists for Cal Poly students, who trust police for help
Journalism recruit Kylee Brown said she woke up on Wednesday, September 29, happy to cycle around campus to see where she can park it for her classes.
When she approached the rack just outside the Nipumuʔ dormitory where she had locked her bike, it was gone.
“I stood there in shock,” Brown said. “There were two other people there who had parts of their bikes stolen, and we kind of just stood there together in silence and talked about what happened.”
Brown was using a U-lock, but since it only locked the front wheel, the thief was able to remove the rest of the bike.
“We looked around and there were so many bikes that were missing parts,” Brown said. “The two wheels were missing, one was just missing the frame, the other was missing the bicycle saddle.”
Since students began living on the Quarter Plus campus in August, the San Luis Obispo Police Department has received 39 reports of bicycle thefts, including a stolen tire. Only five of these bikes were recovered. There have been 143 reported bicycle thefts in San Luis Obispo since the start of 2021 – including three bicycle pieces in total stolen – and 23 of those bikes have been recovered.
“We have increased patrols in areas where bicycle thefts have taken place, [including] patrolling on foot, by bike and by bicycle, ”Cal Poly Police Department Corporal Frank Herrera wrote in an email to Mustang News. “The Cal Poly police officers patrol approximately 10 square miles for which we are responsible, and it is simply impossible for the officers to always be everywhere.”
Bike theft is nothing new to San Luis Obispo.
Off-campus, San Luis Obispo Police received 223 bicycle theft reports in 2020 and recovered 29. In 2019, 285 bikes were stolen in the city and police recovered 43.
“It’s really hard to have a bike here,” said Brown. “It sucks because they say you can’t drive other vehicles – skateboards, scooters – but bikes get stolen every day, so it’s like, what are we supposed to do?”
The Cal Poly Police Department wrote in an email to Mustang News that many stolen bikes on campus are sold in various online marketplaces like Craigslist, taken for dating, or taken out of San Luis Obispo County.
When Brown filed a report with campus police, she said their advice did not reassure her.
“[The officer] just said that [bike theft] happens all the time, it’s the most common crime on campus and I should just buy a really cheap bike because it’s going to be stolen anyway, basically, ”Brown said. “He said that even if you lock everything, there is always a chance that it will be stolen.”
Going forward, Brown said she plans to lock down every part of her bike and sit inside with her.
Second-year mechanical engineering student Dylan Featherson said the front wheel of his bike was stolen from Mustang Village Apartments on Friday, September 24. With the bike lock he had, it was difficult for him to lock the front wheel as well as the frame.
“I just thought we were in a better community [than this]”Said Featherson.” I feel like it’s a little low to steal someone else’s bike. I’m just disappointed that someone is doing that.
“In the city’s bicycle shops, it is not uncommon to see stolen bicycles entering.”
– Sam Coyle, Cambria Bicycle Outfitters employee
At 8 a.m. on Tuesday, October 5, Kellen Andrew, senior aerospace engineering, was late for class. He left his hand-welded custom bike unleashed outside the university’s propulsion lab – a move that cost him the bike. Andrew said he periodically checked his bike during the lab.
“In the 15 minute period between my last look and the end of the lab, someone had it hooked,” Andrew wrote in an email to Mustang News.
He immediately started posting pictures of the bike on social media and spread the word to his friends. With a custom frame and paint job, Andrew said he was sure he would be highly recognizable as long as others knew what to look for.
Andrew then asked campus police to report that his bike had been stolen, but wrote that he felt they were not taking the situation very seriously.
He said they informed him to “let them know if anyone sees him so they can help get him back without anyone being put in danger.” However, Andrew believed that if his bike was spotted there would be minimal delay in getting it back.
After a few hours, Andrew’s bike was spotted at Cambria Bicycle Outfitters by Sam Coyle, senior aerospace engineering and CBO employee. Staff suspected that the customer who had Andrew’s bike had previously stolen items from their store.
“We watched [the customer] a little closer than normal, ”Coyle said. “He seemed like a pretty experienced thief from what we could tell.”
When the customer left after about 30 minutes in the store, Coyle’s manager looked out the back window to see him unlock Andrew’s bike. Coyle immediately exited through the front entrance and walked around the building to confront the customer.
“I asked him, ‘hey man, can I see your bike real fast?’” Said Coyle. “Expecting me to be a bicycle mechanic, he gave in to me right away. I just said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to take this from you.’ I just jumped on it and took off. I walked a few blocks down the street and before my manager could even come around the building to confront him, he was already gone.
Coyle described the thief as a slender white man of average height with long, brown wavy hair. He also said the man had a number tattooed on his chest, although he couldn’t identify what it was.
“In city bike shops, it’s not uncommon to see stolen bikes coming in,” Coyle said. “Bikes are just dollar signs – the more expensive the bike, the more of a target it is.”
When Andrew found his bike, he discovered that his hand-sewn frame bag had been removed from the bike and the pedals had been changed.
Andrew left a message with campus police, informing them his bike had been recovered and informed them of the assailant who was likely caught on security footage from the adjacent Central Coast Brewing.
After several days, however, Andrew wrote that the police still had not responded.
“At this point it doesn’t seem [they] enough care to prosecute the criminal, ”Andrew wrote. “It just feels a bit backwards to me, that’s all.”
Andrew’s advice to students is to always lock their bikes, no matter what.
“It was the first time that I didn’t lock my bike and unfortunately that’s all it took to get it stolen,” he wrote. “The bastards who steal bikes on campus are professionals and they know how to make them disappear very quickly. It really is a miracle that my bike was recovered.
Bike theft on and off campus can be reported to the Cal Poly Police Department and the San Luis Obispo Police Department, respectively. Bicycles stolen on campus are covered by Cal Poly’s dormitory insurance. When locking your bike, it is very important to secure the frame as thieves can remove most of the front wheels from the bike in seconds.
As of this writing, the Cal Poly Police Department is still processing a request regarding the number of bicycle thefts on campus.