A Berkeley man has been reunited with his stolen bike thanks to an alert resident who recognized it in the neighborhood — after seeing a post on social network Nextdoor — but the owner is still hoping to find a second identical bicycle that was also stolen from his home over the weekend.
The theft of both Trek bikes took place sometime between Saturday night and Sunday morning in West Berkeley near Strawberry Creek Park. Owner Caio Braga reported the theft online to the Berkeley Police Department, and also posted information and photographs online, on Nextdoor and the Bike Index, a national registry for bike owners.
Monday morning, a man spotted someone cycling through Strawberry Creek Park on the bike, and recognized it from Braga’s Nextdoor post. The man called police to report it, and officers quickly responded. They were able to confirm that the bike belonged to Braga, and returned it to him.
Braga, a 28-year-old designer who moved to Berkeley with his wife four months ago, said he discovered the theft Sunday morning. The bikes had been left on the couple’s Addison Street patio Saturday. They were unlocked.
Braga said, when he first moved to town, he was vigilant about keeping the bikes locked. Over time, however, he said he got lazy about it, because the patio is not visible from the street.
“Always lock your bike,” he said Tuesday. “That’s the biggest lesson learned from that.”
After discovering the theft, Braga set to work to try to track down the missing bicycles. He updated his Bike Index profile to make sure the entries for both bikes were complete. He had begun to fill out the profiles previously, but hadn’t finished the process. When he started looking online for helpful tips for recovering lost bikes, he came across the Bike Index website again, and also saw that it was recommended by the Berkeley Police Department.
Braga also posted on the Nextdoor site for his Poet’s Corner neighborhood of West Berkeley. His post drew about 25 replies, with many neighbors offering tips about where to go to look for the bicycles. The tips included flea markets such as the one at Ashby BART, as well as other nearby locations, in Strawberry Creek Park and near Aquatic Park, where people had seen bikes dumped recently.
Braga — who rides daily and uses his bike as his main mode of transport — spent all day Sunday visiting all of the locations suggested by neighbors, but his search turned up empty. By Monday morning, he wasn’t feeling very optimistic about finding the bikes, thinking they were likely in another city by that point.
Shortly after 9:30 a.m., a neighbor posted a new reply to Braga, saying he had just called police to report seeing a bike that matched Braga’s Trek being ridden through Strawberry Creek Park. A second post quickly followed.
“It said, ‘The police are here, they got the guy, they have your bike. Please call the police to see how you can get your bike back,’” he said. After striking out Sunday, however, Braga said he didn’t know what to think: “I was kind of not sure if it was mine or not. I was really anxious to see it.”
Within a few minutes, Braga was on the phone with a Berkeley Police officer who confirmed the serial number with him and, ultimately, gave him back the bike.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Braga said. “It’s Monday morning, and I was heading to work. Then I walked back home to meet the officer. Even when I called my wife and told her, ‘They got my bike back,’ she was thinking I was joking. Especially because it was three blocks from my place. That was the most incredible thing.”
Officers arrested the man riding the bike, Jason Harsha Jr., 20, on suspicion of possession of stolen property and possession of methamphetamine, which are misdemeanors. Harsha, whose residence is listed as transient, was booked into Santa Rita Jail but has since been released. He is scheduled for arraignment Sept. 21.
Braga said he believes he got the bike back primarily because of his rapid posts online — had he waited, he thinks the recovered bike would have been less likely to have stayed in the neighborhood — and his alert neighbor who recognized the bike and called police.
“I’m really thankful to him for that,” he said, “and all the other neighbors giving ideas about what I should do and who I should talk to and where should I look.”
He urged other bike owners to keep their bikes locked, even at home, keep track of serial numbers and purchase receipts, and photograph bikes to make it easier to share images with others who can also keep a lookout. Had he not posted the photo, his neighbor would have been unlikely to recognize the bike, Braga added, and alert the authorities.
“People don’t have to learn the hard way, as I did,” he said.
Said Officer Byron White, a Berkeley Police spokesman, the recovery shows “the power of social media and why it’s important for people to register bikes” on the Bike Index if they hope to get their property back. The goal of the site is to help limit the market for stolen bikes by making their identification much easier. (See what local cycling advocacy group Bike East Bay has to say about the Bike Index registry.)
“In a sense, really all we had to do was make the arrest, because the person actually reported it online, so the officer didn’t even need to go out to take a report,” he said. “It’s like this perfect story of the community helping us, and also helping themselves.”
White said it can be a real challenge to find the rightful owner if someone doesn’t have a serial number, because proving ownership then becomes much more difficult. He said, too, that it was notable for Braga to get the bike back so quickly. Often, bikes get stripped, split up into parts and sold that way.
“It’s very hard to get people their stuff back,” White said. “It would be great if he gets his other bike back, too.”
Braga said he has “a little bit of hope” that the other Trek will turn up. He said it may take some time though, if someone who ends up with it decides to check for the serial number, WTU177C0031D, on Bike Index. He said he plans to keep looking for it online, and will also post it on Craigslist and other places to increase the chances of getting helpful tips about its location.
“I’m not confident it’s going to be, like, tomorrow, as it happened with the first bike,” he said. “But maybe I can get it back.”
More information about bike theft prevention can be found on Bike East Bay’s website.
‘Stolen 911′ helps woman recover pilfered painting (08.24.15)
UC Berkeley police lay ‘bait’ for bike thieves on campus (07.23.15)
Berkeley police hope bike registry will deter thieves (07.09.15)
Berkeley police find bike stash, but still seeking victims (10.17.14)
BART seeks owners of recovered bikes, parts after arrest (01.10.13)
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