Bicycle Pursuit: Cops Cover Plenty of Ground, Etch Wins

Bicycle Pursuit: Cops Cover Plenty of Ground, Etch Wins

By Stephen Owsinski

Another sticky-fingered kleptomaniac whose poor decision to heist a young kid’s bicycle found out that cops can cover all kinds of terrain with varying modes of travel to get the crime-fighting mission accomplished.

Police officers in Menlo Park, California, caught up with a bicycle thief after a fresh pursuit was initiated by one of the department’s Bicycle Unit patrol officers operating a newly procured specialty bike. (Great things happen when cops have adequate staffing and equipment to fulfill the crime-fighting mission, effectively silencing contrarians who believe society is best without cops to do deeply dangerous feats.)

Before the bike pursuit through Menlo Park’s downtown district, a patrol officer took a report of a residential burglary in which the suspect stole a youngster’s bicycle.

Once the report-writing officer established a bicycle was taken from the private property, a BOLO (Be On the LookOut) was broadcast via police radio. BOLOs contain the type of item stolen, its color, and any particulars so patrol officers can observe for such while on the beat. And that’s exactly how this crime was solved…

Calling it “Sunday Funday,” Menlo Park cops shared the following synopsis of the criminal caper involving another cop sighting a potential match, the suspect fleeing after realizing he is had, the bicycle pursuit through downtown streets, the subsequent take-down of the suspect, and a friendly reminder to preempt this kind of victimization by opportunists watching for signs of easy grabs:

“Another bike thief chased down on one of our new Scott Carbon Fiber Patrol Bikes in the downtown area by Officer J. Venzon [image above]. The suspect was booked into the county jail for residential burglary. The kid’s mountain bike was returned to its rightful owner. A reminder to lock up your garage and register your bike to make it easier to identify if it is ever stolen.” (More on that last part in a moment.)

(Photo courtesy of the Menlo Park Police Department.)  

Among the kudos written to the Officer Venzon of the Meno Park Police Bike Unit was one that encapsulated a hugely important point containing significant weight in the context we are discussing:

“Wow! Good work! I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to build up speed on a bike wearing a ballistic vest, duty belt, radio, pepper spray, ammo, ASP, and a pistol. And I gripe about the weight of my water bottle! Stay safe, guys!” That astute observation was rendered by Mr. Zimmerman.

Nice catch! And a great demonstration of law enforcement agencies’ efficacy when the right equipment is among their arsenal of crime-fighting apparatus used by a robust ratio of police officers (we’ve seen specialized units like Bike Patrol and others disbanded due to staffing shortages stemming from anti-police tsunamis).

Officer Venzon sported a contemporary bicycle crafted by a company that has been “at the forefront of carbon mountain bike development for decades.” Sounds like he’s on a good saddle.

Another piece of apparatus that is not so universal is a small “engraver gun.” My department procured one —a handheld electronic device that, when plugged in and activated, buzzes away while the handler etches numerical and/or alphabetical characters into metal and glassware— and lent it out to members of the public, by request. We quickly found out we needed several more engraver guns and stocked up, an example of the police helping citizens to help the police.

Generally, officers in our Crime Prevention Unit (CPU) would equip their police cruisers with an engraver and bring it to/demonstrate for citizens and merchants wishing to score serial numbers or other unique identifiers on their personal property. Although bicycles have serial numbers embossed on the frame by manufacturers, we encouraged folks to also add an etching of something personal to them, in places away from the serial number. Sort of like DNA, unique identifiers are rather indisputable.

Incidentally, police agencies loan out engravers as a courtesy. Last night, I read material in a reputable car-oriented publication; the topic was “14 Ways to Not Allow Auto Dealerships to Upsell You.” One of the 14 heads-ups had to do with roughly $400. fees charged by auto manufacturers for “etching” the car’s VIN (vehicle identification number) onto panes of glass such as a driver’s door. (Nowadays, though, high-res laser instrumentation etches most products with ease and better craftsmanship. The price tags, though, can be cost prohibitive. So primitive, more affordable, compact, plug-in, handheld engravers have their place…perhaps in the trunk of a police cruiser near you.)

Thieves may be generally aware of the universality of manufacturer-applied identifiers. Thus, rightful property owners etch-in OANs (Owner Applied Numbers) elsewhere on the bicycle or power tools, etc.

The criminal justice database fields for entry include spaces to enter OANs, coming in extra handy for cops trying to identify ownership with relative certitude. An esoteric yet super helpful ingredient in the crime-fighting mission, while also increasing the odds victims receive their property back.

If the property owner has the serial number jotted down somewhere (if only…), cops use that specific identifier to promptly enter the stolen property into the state’s criminal justice database that interfaces with NCIC (National Crime Information Center). Both are storehouses of criminal justice-related data maintained by law enforcement entities to contain records of things like stolen property—all kinds.

When I was a police communications officer (dispatcher) before entering the police academy, I had to study for and pass a state-mandated examination regarding obtaining authorized access to, and proficiency in, operating criminal justice databases. Plenty of mnemonics and tons of information were uploaded by police agencies when entering stolen items, missing persons, and other case details.

Conversely, cops on the beat Anywhere, USA, come across people and property (bikes, firearms, lawnmowers precariously jutting from trunks at 02:15 a.m., to name a few) and query NCIC by providing serial numbers on property, via either police radio (dispatchers conduct all the database searches) or by their in-car laptops.

With officer safety a paramount ingredient, though, cops maintain acute observation of potential suspects in possession of items while dispatchers conduct searches in the criminal justice information database.

Up there with firearms, bicycles are among the most commonly-entered “Stolen Items” in the criminal justice database. In Menlo Park, California, police went wheel-to-wheel and then head-to-head to swiftly recover and return a youngster’s stolen bicycle after a downtown bike pursuit ensued.

Again: having enough police staffing and requisite equipment to ensure public safety is a glaring necessity for cops to cover all the ground expected of them.