The Public Defenders were in a collective snit, a common fit of indignation, a united sense of outrage against that perennial evildoer (to the underclass), that legendary Man From U.N.C.L.E. (UNderCover Law Enforcement), Ukiah Police Sergeant Peter Hoyle.
“What’s he done this time — busting skateboarders for roach-clips again?”
“On no, no-no-no — nothing so grand as that; no, he’s gone much lower this time and now we’ve got a whole raft of people charged with stealing bicycles — yes, bicycles — measly bicycles — and the way he goes about it is just despicable!”
“Absolutely. First off, the bicycles are not even stolen, not really, they’re just bait, set out by Hoyle himself to catch our poor innocent little clients and charge them unfairly with these huge heinous felonies — just for taking some old bike! Can you imagine?”
Actually, I can. I’ve had a couple of bikes stolen and I didn’t much like the experience. Run in a convenience store and leave your bike unlocked — let’s say you forgot to bring the chain and lock — so you’re in the store only a minute or two, and sure enough, when you come out the bike’s gone! Or, lock it up and go in to do some shopping at Ross Dress For Less or Big 5 Sporting Goods, and when you come out the front wheel and seat are gone! Broad daylight! What nerve! And when you report it, sad to say, nothing much can be done. Witnesses in the Pear Tree parking lot may watch the theft go down, but they will not talk to the cops for fear of being labeled a snitch, and — sneer if you want to — but the Ukiah P.D. doesn’t have enough manpower to assign a couple of detectives to a stolen bike case. So bike thieves get a free ride and they know it. In fact, stolen bikes have been a pretty sound business venture in Ukiah for a long time — Take ‘em apart, change the handlebars, seats and fenders around, re-paint the frame and — presto — you’d never recognize your own bike when somebody else rides it right past you!
Here’s some more trivia about bike thieves. Bike locks are easy to jimmy. A feeler gauge slid in over the locking bolt will usually let it slip out under the locking lug. The keys for bike locks are so simple that any comparable size key may work just fine. Bike locks with combinations are generally 1-2-3-4 — it’s too hard to remember complex combinations. And bike thieves know all these details, and many more. Plus, a set of bike tools, such as Allen and crescent wrenches will fit in your pocket, where they’re handy for snatching seats and wheels and handlebars when the frame is locked and the combo’s too tricky to open quickly.
And here’s the clincher for bike thieves — it’s only a misdemeanor, dude! The worst they can give you is an Irish holiday — two weeks in jail — and any bike thief worth his Top Ramen can do two weeks at the Low Gap Hilton standing on his head. You call that a deterrent? That’s no deterrent, Jake — that’s a joke — oh, ha ha ha!
So, frankly, this reporter doesn’t share the righteous indignation of the defense bar when it comes to “bait bikes.” In fact, I wouldn’t even write up this story — thereby giving bike thieves a head’s-up — except that it sounds like such a good solid deterrent, a word to the wise, as it were, a warning: “Don’t touch that bike, fool, it could be a bait bike.”
Here’s one example. Sgt. Hoyle took a bike, a touring bike, one of the nicer ones that require special shoes, shoes that snap on to little toe clips where the pedals would be on a regular bike, and a specialized seat that goes with the special padded Lycra shorts — part of the harlequin costume that bicycle enthusiasts wear (and if you haven’t seen one of these outfits, check out Judge Keith Faulder’s Facebook page, because he has hundreds of photos of himself dressed like this on his pricey touring bike) — aerodynamic helmet, nifty little gloves for the handlebars, and a cute little bag hanging from the back of the seat to carry your granola bar and a rack for the electrolyte water bottle on the frame — Sgt. Hoyle took this very attractive bike down by the old train depot on the recently improved bike & hike trail along the old railroad tracks and leant it against a bench. Then Hoyle went back to his observation post near Walgreen’s on Perkins Street and watched and waited.
Almost the first person to come along, Peggy Lee Rand, with her fluorescent magenta-dyed hair, cast covetous eyes on the stylish bike, and, overcome by temptation, Ms. Rand sat down to consider how best to proceed, glancing both directions up and down the bike trail, surreptitiously. After a moment’s consideration she was utterly seduced and got up and— like a Pawnee brave stealing a Cheyenne pony — started wheeling the bicycle away.
At this point Sgt. Holye’s face must have lit up, like a big speckled trout had risen to his hand-tied mayfly on the first upstream roll cast. Setting the hook, Hoyle keyed the mike on his radio and advised Officer Kevin Murray, stationed on Clay Street where it meets the bike trail, to stand by with a net.
Here’s Officer Murray on the stand in Judge Cindee Mayfield’s court last week:
“She [Ms. Rand] told me her Old Man got it at a yard sale and gave it to her. When I asked why she wasn’t riding it, she said the pedals were gone. I also noticed it was way too big for her.”
Defense attorney Anthony Adams only had one question on cross-examination, and that was whether or not Officer Murray had seen his client take the bike; no, Murray said, he had not.
Sgt. Hoyle was called, and he advised the court that he had taken the bike to Dave’s Bike Shop in Ukiah and had it appraised at $600; the lock — which had not been locked to anything, but was merely wrapped around the stem of the seat (as though the owner intended to be right back), had a value of $39; the pouch was $20 — still well below the $995 that must be exceeded to make it a felony. Then Hoyle revealed that he had placed a GPS tracker under the seat that was worth $450.
This infuriated Mr. Adams — Ms. Rand all this time had had her face buried in a handful of Kleenex, sniffling nonstop.
Adams: “Who put the GPS on the bike?”
Hoyle: “I put it there.”
Adams: “Where on the bike did you put it?”
Hoyle: “Under the seat.”
Adams: “Your honor, there’s no question she [Ms. Rand] stole the bike. The question is what’s the appropriate measure the court should take? What the police have done here borders on the unconscionable. The bike was left on a bike trail, for crying out loud! And then, if that’s not bad enough, a GPS tracker was placed — by the officer — under the seat — and to include this in the price of the bicycle speaks volumes about the culpability of Ms. Rand.”
Ms. Rand, aware that she’d just been made the injured party, sniffed more emphatically.
Deputy DA Joe Guzman pointed out that Ms. Rand had a history of theft.
Adams: “That’s not the issue, your honor. What the court has to decide is, Is this just? Is it fair to Ms. Rand to elevate this misdemeanor to a felony? I would suggest to the court that it is unfair to elevate the value of things with things hidden from view. And so I’m asking the court, in the interest of justice, to reduce it [the felony charge] to a misdemeanor.”
Guzman: “Ms. Rand has been given the benefit of the doubt many times in the past, and if there is going to be a 17b. [reduction to a misdemeanor after time and conditions are met] then it should be earned and not given out of hand today.”
Adams: “Your honor, judges are elected in this county precisely because they are representatives of the community’s conscience and the way this was done is unconscionable.”
Judge Mayfield: “That argument can go too far the other way, counsel.”
Adams: “If — simply by hiding the ball — we reward law enforcement with felony convictions for what is basically a buyer-beware — caveat emptor — should be the same standard as for thief beware.”
Guzman: “The overall theft was over $995 and I’m asking for the holding order.”
Mayfield: “More than one bait bike has been put out recently and based on the totality of the circumstances and Ms. Rand’s record I’m going to grant the 17b. motion.”
There was another bait bike prelim upstairs in Judge Eric Labowitz’s court (Labowitz, a Boonville resident who retired a few years ago, was filling in for Judge Behnke). As Labowitz had only a few hours earlier denied a 17b with even more merit than the one Mayfield had just granted, it was pretty certain this one would stick.
Sergeant Hoyle was standing by to testify, but it was late in the after afternoon and two prelims were scheduled — so the one with the defendant in custody took precedent and the other bait bike case was rescheduled (a rare stroke of luck for the kid who had been snagged, for it is unlikely that the harder-horse Labowitz will be there next week).
In fact, On Monday, April Fool’s Day, Judge Keith Faulder will be taking over the felony calendar — trading his current assignment of handling misdemeanors with the refreshingly lenient Judge Mayfield — and Faulder, being an avid bicycle enthusiast himself, I suspect, would be likely to come down rather hard on anyone who stole a nice touring bike like the one used to bait Ms. Rand.
It might even be a good idea for Faulder to put a GPS on his own bike in case these thieves Mayfield lets off go after his bike — which is no doubt a high-end machine easily worth felony charges without the added cost of a GPS.