Surge in bike thefts
Published: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 9:32 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 24, 2013 at 9:32 a.m.
When the Calvert family moved out of their Payran Street home and into a new residence on South McDowell Boulevard last week, they knew they had to make some adjustments to living in a busier part of town.
“We planned on having to lock our doors all the time, make sure our stuff was put away, and keeping a more careful eye on our belongings,” said Abby Calvert.
But this wife and mother of two was not expecting to have her husband’s bicycle stolen on the second night of living in their new place. “It was so disappointing,” she said. “Especially because the bike was in our side yard, behind the house, in a tucked-away spot.”
The Calverts are among the many victims of a recent spike in bicycle thefts occurring in Petaluma during the past few weeks, according to the Petaluma Police Department. It’s also the latest occurrence in a larger uptick in property crimes occurring throughout the city since late last summer.
Petaluma Property Crimes Detective Paul Gilman said that while bicycle theft has been common in Petaluma, the past few weeks have been particularly bad.
“The number of reports has been way higher than normal,” said Gilman, who said that 19 bicycle thefts have been reported in the last six weeks. The department took just 13 bike theft reports in the three months prior. “They’re cutting bike locks, taking them from people’s garages, stealing them from bike racks in front of stores, and even taking them off bike racks on the backs of people’s cars.”
Gilman, who has been investigating the rash of bicycle thefts, said that he believes there is a particular crime ring in town responsible for the bike theft, as well as a growing number of thefts involving patio furniture being stolen out of people’s yards. “They are scouting the bikes out ahead of time,” he said. “There’s a pattern of scouting and a unique methodology to the thefts lately that has made us think that it’s a particular group of people.” Gilman declined to give further details about the crime ring, citing the ongoing investigation.
Unfortunately for Calvert, the chance of ever recovering her husband’s stolen bicycle is very low. Calvert said she didn’t know the serial number of the bike she paid approximately $250 for a few years back, and that she did not have any photos of the bike, a gray beach cruiser, either — both things that Gilman said could help get stolen merchandise like bicycles back to their rightful owners.
“We’re grateful for the wakeup call, without any real damage being done,” said Calvert, who planned to photograph the rest of her family’s bicycles that afternoon. “I’m sure there are a lot of people like us who didn’t think to report it because they couldn’t identify their property.”
In a trend that began last summer, break-ins, thefts and robberies have been steadily increasing in Petaluma. Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons said that since January 1, the department has received 58 burglary reports, five attempted burglary reports, and 255 auto burglaries or thefts from vehicles.
Some law enforcement officials believe the recent spike in property crimes is related to Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to reduce overcrowding in state prisons by releasing less dangerous criminals to county jails, known commonly as “realignment.” In October of 2011, thousands of non-violent felons who are considered to be “low-risk” were released from state prisons to county jails — a move that some say may result in these offenders being released into society earlier than they would have otherwise.
“(Realignment) has introduced a large number of nonviolent property criminals back into the streets with lack of supervision,” said Gilman. “They’re getting these (short) sentences and then getting back out quickly.”
While many in law enforcement share Gilman’s sentiments, the Sonoma County Probation Department, which supervises these released prisoners, says that realignment has been largely successful.
“There’s nothing that I know of that would suggest the spike in property crimes is due to realignment,” Robert Ochs, Sonoma County’s chief probation officer, said in April. “We can’t demonstrate that and there’s no information that would suggest that.”
In fact, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation just released its first study on the effects of realignment last week and concluded that the program was working successfully. The study found that post-realignment offenders were arrested at a lower rate than other offenders and that the rate of post-realignment offenders convicted of new crimes was almost the same as the rate of other offenders.
But Patrick Johnson, professor of criminology and criminal justice studies at Sonoma State University, pointed out that the state’s study was done by the agency responsible for realignment, which could have influenced the results.
“It’s too bad that there’s no money that came with realignment to do an independent study by an entity that doesn’t have a vested interest in the outcome,” said Jackson. “I’m not saying the study was wrong, but on the face of it, because it was done by the CDCR, it’s an issue. There just isn’t enough good-quality information out there to really assess the effects of realignment at this point.”
Whatever the cause, the Petaluma Police Department is urging citizens to pay close attention to their belongings.
“I would encourage everyone to take 20 minutes over the next week to photograph their bikes, write down the serial numbers, lock up their stuff, and to make sure everything is closed off and secure at night,” said Gilman.
(Contact Janelle Wetzstein at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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