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Give pause before chasing down that thief

Published March 18, 2020

Editor's note: A version of this story ran in the March issue of BRAIN, part of our series of articles about smash and grab thefts.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (BRAIN) — A bike store manager was injured a year ago in Chino, California, trying to stop two men stealing a bike, and it’s the type of story that makes Vancouver detective Rob Brunt wince.

“I get it,” said Brunt, a 24-year veteran police officer and bike patrol officer for eight years. “I’m a cyclist. It would be hard not to run after that person. But my advice at the end of the day is it’s just a bike. You’re worth more to me than any bicycle.”

With smash and grab bike theft becoming more common, many retailers have had enough, especially ones who have been repeatedly burglarized. Read any Facebook post about retailers or individuals having one or several bikes stolen, and you’ll see support for taking matters into your own hands. 

Aaron Goss, owner of Aaron’s Bicycle Repair and Rat City Bikes in Seattle, hasn’t had someone attempt to run out with a bike. But he knows how he would react.

“If someone were to run out with a bike, I would chase them,” Goss said. “I am 250 pounds of strong man, and, ‘You wouldn't like me when I am angry,’ to quote the Hulk. We have a lot of foot traffic, and people around here care about the 'hood, so I think someone would help stop a runaway thief. People know not to (mess) with us.”

Brunt calls for cooler heads to always prevail.

“Law enforcement is trained on use of force and how to apply that in the law structure,” he said. “You don’t want to see anything happen to anybody, whether it’s the crook or the owner of the store.”

Scott Chapin, a bicycle industry risk specialist for Marsh & McLennan Agency, said he doesn’t recommend any clients chase burglars, but he said workers compensation would provide coverage if an injury occurred. 

J Allard, CEO of 529 Garage bike registration service, said it comes down to the “21-foot Rule” that police officers follow. An officer should not come within 21 feet of a suspect until a determination is made about what kind of weapons are at play.

“If you’re within 18 feet, you can’t stop a knife attack,” Allard said. “It’s likely the thief has a drug problem and or mental problem. They are not operating at 100%. And you’re not thinking rationally. So you’ve taken your rationality down a notch or two because you’re pissed off enough to give chase. You kind of switch off and you see red; you go tunnel vision, and you run through your own plate glass window. Or you crush a grandma with a walker on the way out. Or you confront the guy who by definition has sharp tools in his pocket, probably rusty, and has less to lose than you do. And if you catch him and violate his rights, you’re going to go away, too.” 

Brunt said his call for calm hasn’t been a hard sell to most retailers he’s spoken with. He noted one who came from two hours away to attend a 529 Garage bike registration presentation in Vancouver. Despite being burglarized eight times in four years, he “was super positive. First of all, I was shocked he showed up for any police product because he has to be so downhearted and jaded with the police.” 

So what happened to that California bike store manager? She suffered a broken pelvis, ankle and thumb when she was run over by the getaway truck in the parking lot. 

After that incident, Brad James, co-owner of Sports Garage Cycling in Boulder, Colorado, met with his nine-person staff to reaffirm his store’s policy: “We’re not doing that. Your life is not worth it,” James said.

Topics associated with this article: Smash and Grab, From the Magazine

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