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TLDR; I chased down a bike thief and caught her. Turns out she's a juvenile. She claims she mistook the bike for her own. The police say if we press charges, nothing will likely come of it because it's a he-said/she-said situation. What should I do?

Last night, my beloved racing bike got stolen off of the front of a Muni bus in San Francisco.

I'd been watching it like a hawk, and saw it as it happened. The driver did too. He yelled, "Your bike!" and opened the door for me, I dropped my stuff and took off after the thief. She was obviously having trouble keeping her feet on the tiny Speedplay pedals, and I managed to tackle her as she slipped. Two security guards happened to be right there, and apprehended her. Thankfully, the bus driver waited for me, so I was able to retrieve my laptop bag (and 40lb bag of cat litter — man, that would have slowed me down).

It turns out this happened right outside of the girl's apartment, and her mother and grandmother came out due to the commotion. The mother was genuinely and earnestly disappointed in her daughter.

The police told me given her story (she mistook the bike for her own) and lack of prior arrest record, it would be hard to take it any further than a police report. The problem is that in order to convict, we would need to prove intent, and that would be difficult to do. Having done some Googling since, as I (possibly incorrectly) understand it, the city prosecutor would be responsible for pressing charges and would probably opt not to do so.

Is that the case? And how should I proceed? I'm not convinced that pressing charges would result in a positive outcome (either if it wasn't successful or if it was; sometimes kids just do stupid shit and need an event like this to change their path). What would you do at this point if you were in my situation?

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closed as not constructive by Neil Fein, freiheit Feb 9 '13 at 20:53

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Press charges. It will go on her juvie record and be a club that can be used against her later, should she do something similar again. That is, unless you fear reprisals. –  Daniel R Hicks Dec 9 '12 at 13:13
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I would agree, press charges. Regardless if this is her first experiment in theft or not, maybe the experience will help her to rethink trying it again. –  Zippy The Pinhead Dec 9 '12 at 16:19
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Perhaps ask the mum whether she thinks you should press charges, or whether she has a more appropriate idea. Also, lock a wheel of your bike before you put it on the bus bike rack (to prevent it being ridden away). –  ChrisW Dec 9 '12 at 17:11
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6 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Don't bother - your bike, laptop bag, and cat litter were not lost. It was a horrible experience no doubt, but in the end you didn't lose anything.

So what can be gained from this experience? Stopping anyone else's bike being stolen by the juvenile is the obvious one.

  • If we assume that this was the first time she had attempted to steal bike - it went horribly wrong and would probably put anyone off doing it again anyway. Especially if she came from a decent home, her family will give her some serious grief.
  • If this was one of many attempted bike thefts then pressing charges (which as you say will almost certainly not result in any litigious action), won't change her behaviour - you will have just wasted your own time.

Personally I don't think there is general right or wrong answer, every situation is different. The above is just my take on what you have written.

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Press charges, and have the police issue a warrant to search for a bike similar to yours/ Investigate (Asking her mom/neighbors questions about a bike that may be similar) If she shows up with one, you're out of luck, but it's probably not likely. Additionally, there is no way she would be able to pedal away with a bike that doesn't fit her, so her height and physiology may also make your case. I'd think that when somebody adjusted my seat height, I would notice. Good luck!

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-1: I don't think the law really works that way. I don't think the police can get a warrant to search for lack of exculpatory evidence, since it doesn't meet the basic probable cause of evidence of a crime to get a search warrant. It's also probably not worth it for the police, given the relative low dollar value of the bicycle. –  freiheit Feb 9 '13 at 20:49
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imho, you should press charges - this will help to make world around you a little safer place. By not pressing charges you will send a wrong signal to the thief and to the police

The broken windows theory is a criminological theory of the norm-setting and signaling effect of urban disorder and vandalism on additional crime and anti-social behavior. The theory states that maintaining and monitoring urban environments in a well-ordered condition may stop further vandalism and escalation into more serious crime.

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-1: You can't press charges. You can file a complaint with the police (which I think them taking a report would cover), and try to convince the prosecutor to file charges. –  freiheit Feb 9 '13 at 20:52
    
@freiheit: pls read the original question again. author is not convinced that "pressing charges would result in a positive outcome" –  Steve V Feb 9 '13 at 22:56
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Every time I've had my bike stolen, the police were mostly dismissive, or had helpful advice that should have protected me "next time" but typically, didn't (My most recent theft was from an enclosed and non-obvious bike room in my complex's underground parking, locked with a U-lock).

At the very least, you know who did it. Most of the time, you're not so lucky. I would press charges for that reason alone.

As for the police's assessment that little to nothing will come of it, that's correct. In my jurisdiction, stealing a $1200 bike is no different from stealing a chocolate bar at a convenience store from the point of view of the law. It's all covered under the law for "Theft under $5000".

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I've had bikes stolen in SF too and it sucks.

Get some reusable zip ties, and zip tie your bike to the rack. That way, a thief has to also come up with a plausible reason why they disabled your locking mechanism to get at your bike, and you have a bit more time to get out of the bus and after them.

On proceeding in this case, "How to Sue Someone Who Stole Your Stuff" suggests you may be able to pursue civil penalties:

You have two options when seeking to sue someone who you believe has stolen your possessions: contact your local district attorney to file charges or file a lawsuit in civil court. If the amount is relatively small (generally under $5,000) you can file an action in small claims court, which is a streamlined and simplified system where you do not necessarily need an attorney. Note that you do not have to choose between civil or criminal enforcement, they can both proceed simultaneously.

For a civil suit you need to show that you were somehow adversely affected by her actions. If there was any damage to the bike, you could probably go after her for the cost of repairs.

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Unfortunately, the police are probably correct. It's probably a waste of time trying to prosecute her. It's fortunate that you didn't lose any property. What is likely to happen here, is that in a few years, the police will likely be dealing with this girl again. Only this time, the theft won't be of a bicycle, but a vehicle! She'll feel like she got away with an attempted theft one time ( who know's, maybe this is just the first time she was caught! ), and have a similar exceuse the next time she's caught. The police and her mother and grandmother are doing her no favors at all. I'd bet they knew the bicycle isn't "just like hers!" She'll likely see the inside of a jail cell in the not too distant future. Glad it turned out for you!

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