Recovering your own stolen bike is legal—but be careful
By Bob Mionske
It was a classic sting operation—and when it was posted on YouTube, Jake Gillum’s bike-recovery videowent viral. The cyclist from Portland, Oregon, had spotted his stolen bike in a Craigslist ad. He arranged a meeting with the seller, then drove to the agreed-upon location with some friends and a video camera. After calling the police, he met the seller and started to talk bikes. But the officers didn’t show, and after stalling as long as he could, Gillum accused the seller of stealing his bike. The man fled, and Gillum followed, recording the chase. When police finally got there, they arrested the suspected felon.
For any cyclist who has ever had a bike stolen, it doesn’t get much better than that moment of triumph. But consider this advice before taking justice into your own hands.
Be able to prove it’s yours Keep records of your bike: receipts, photos, serial numbers, and other identifying details. If the bike is stolen and recovered, the police will want to see proof of ownership.
File a police report You’ll need it—along with proof of ownership—to file a claim with an insurance company.
Bring reinforcements It’s legal to pretend to be an interested buyer if you suspect that somebody is offering your stolen bike for sale. It’s also legal to confront the seller and allege that the bike belongs to you. However, be aware that the suspected thief might deny that the bike is stolen, run, or become aggressive. Follow the law and consider your own safety. Having friends recording the encounter can help, but you should also let the police know of your plans ahead of time.
Use force The “bike thief” you attack may be an innocent third party who doesn’t know the bike was stolen. Or the bike may not be yours. You can defend yourself if you’re attacked, but that might open a legal can of worms. Let the police handle any altercations.
Research and assistance provided by Rick Bernardi, J.D.
This article, Catch a Thief, was originally published on Bicycling on November 12, 2012.