Not so long ago, the Los Angeles Police Department would've smirked at suggestions that they spend their time finding bike thieves, but as crime on the whole is dropping in LA, cycle theft has gone up by 29 per cent. And it's become such a problem that vigilante groups have been set up to protect precious bikes.
LAPD detectives recently broke up a downtown bicycle theft ring and nabbed two men who allegedly swiped bikes and sold them on Craigslist.com. At the motel of one of the alleged thieves, they found bolt cutters, hacksaws and a Mercedes-Benz equipped with a bike rack.
Last month, a group of bike messengers took justice into their own hands when they caught two suspected thieves who attended a local school.
According to police, the messengers stripped down the thieves to their boxer shorts before taking their mobile phones, backpacks and clothes.
"They meted out street justice. We don't condone street justice. They never threatened them. But they made it clear: Don't mess with another person's property," LAPD Lt. Paul Vernon told the Los Angeles Times. "This incident and the arrests are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to people stealing bicycles."
"There wasn't any violence. . . . They were stripped of their clothes and sent home," said Douglas Forrest, a process server and bicycle messenger who heard about the incident.
In downtown, the number of bikes reported stolen increased last year by more than 57% - and cyclists have noticed.
"They'll take anything they can get these days. It has gotten really bad," Forrest said. "They even go as far as ripping off the cranks. People glue ball bearings in the Allen wrench holes under their saddle to protect them."
Nearly 2,000 bikes were reported stolen last year -- and authorities believe the actual number of thefts was much higher because so many people don't report stolen bikes.
LAPD detectives believe the increase is due in part to more people using bikes to get around in some neighbourhoods.
An analysis of LAPD data found the USC campus area, Venice, parts of Hollywood and downtown L.A. to be hot spots for bike thefts.