I recently became a statistic in the annals of Philadelphia crime. The theft of my bicycle was painful, both emotionally and to my bank account, but the way the Philadelphia Police Department treated the incident — as an annoying piece of paperwork — really struck a raw nerve.
Briefly: I called 911 and reported the July 17 midafternoon theft in the Gayborhood on 12th Street within minutes of the witnessed event and was told to wait for a call back from the precinct. The call came while I was on the phone getting the serial number from the shop where I purchased the bike and the message said that, because I didn’t answer, I had to call 911 and start the process over. I called 911 for the second time and, when the precinct called back again, began reporting the theft on the phone. About halfway through, the person I was speaking with decided to dispatch someone to my location for an in-person report.
Two hours after my initial 911 call, an officer arrived. This wasn’t a life-threatening event, but it was the middle of a quiet Sunday afternoon and I doubt much else was taking up their time. When I began the report again and got to the description of the perpetrator, the officer stopped me and said, “That’s a pretty good description; 911 should have dispatched someone immediately.”
When he was done taking my information, the officer told me they get 100 of these bike calls a day and the chances are next to zero I would ever see my bike again. He said I had a slightly better chance since I had the serial number. He added that, if I did see my bike, I should knock the guy off of it and take it back, or call the police if I see the bike locked up somewhere.
I was hurt by the theft, but this was infuriating. How dare a public servant casually dismiss a crime like that? And then suggest that I also take a chance at recovering the bike myself? In dealing with a public servant, I hoped — and, for some stupid reason, expected — to get some solace from reporting the crime and a tiny ray of hope that because I did, I had a better chance at recovery.
A July PGN online poll, notedly unscientific, suggests that about a third of the LGBT population has experienced a crime in the Gayborhood in the past year. A friend and I locked our bikes to a signpost; we did not just leave them leaning against a wall. I know that good prevention is the best crime deterrent; lock your car, take or hide valuables and be aware of your surroundings.
In this week’s poll (page 4), about 45 percent of respondents said relations between the police and the LGBT community receive a failing or unsatisfactory grade.
Is it any wonder? During my incident, there was not one “I’m sorry this happened to you,” or “We’ll keep our eyes open for it” or anything else that might be reassuring. I don’t give a flying rat’s ass how hollow it might sound or how he or I personally felt about a successful recovery. I wanted some compassion!
If I ever get my bike back, it will be because some friend saw the picture I posted on Facebook and I can personally identify it and then verify it through the serial number. I am certain I will never see it again because some diligent officer gave a shit about just another bike theft and actually noticed.
As for the 100 stolen bicycles a day, that tallies to more than 36,500 bicycles stolen in Philadelphia every year.
Apparently, as we cyclists continue to say: We need more places to safely lock our bikes.