Police surprise Craigslist seller to help woman get her stolen bike back

Police surprise Craigslist seller to help woman get her stolen bike back

The Craigslist post (still up as of today) said the bike was, "Recently bought for me as a gift but I'm not much into bicycle riding."

The Craigslist post (still up as of today) said the bike was, “Recently bought for me as a gift but I’m not much into bicycle riding.”

Northwest Portland resident Tina Penman is feeling very grateful for the Portland Police Bureau today. After her bike got stolen on Monday she set up a Craiglist sting with an officer who rolled up just in time to bust the thief.

In the interest of educating others about how to prevent and recover a stolen bike, we asked Tina to share how it all went down. Here’s her story…

With the rain and winds late last week into this past weekend, I took a 5-day hiatus from riding my bike. On Monday night, I popped down to my building’s private courtyard to say hi (who doesn’t miss their bike after a 5-day hiatus?) and see how it was doing. I live in an apartment complex in the Pearl and you need a fob to gain access to this area. To my unpleasant surprise, it was no longer there. I had it locked using a Kryptonite Chain Combination Lock in a well-lit area next to two other bikes (one was my husband’s) that remain unscathed.

I immediately hit up my husband and a couple friends to ask for advice. My bike had a Tile tracker attached to seat and I wasn’t sure how it would work in a situation where my bike could be anywhere. Tile utilizes a Bluetooth connection so you have to be in very close proximity for an item with a Tile attached to be found. I hopped in a Zipcar, drove real slow around some popular camps in PDX in hopes my Tile app would capture my bike, but no such luck. After driving around for an hour, I realized it was like searching for a needle in a haystack so I called it quits and went home.

All safe and sound, minus a few accessories. But strangely the thief cleaned it up and added a new saddle.(Photos: Tina Penman)

All safe and sound, minus a few accessories. But strangely the thief cleaned it up and added a new saddle.
(Photos: Tina Penman)

When I got home, I hopped on Craigslist just for kicks to see if it was being sold. To my surprise, I actually found it in a Craigslist post. The pictures showed my bike, down to the details of the bike frame sticker, the spoke reflectors I use for visibility (obnoxious, I know), and even the bike mounts I have on my dropdowns for my front lights. I got nervous and my heart was beating so fast! I knew time was of the essence because this bike could be sold and I’d never see it again. I immediately posted in the BTA Women Bike Facebook group asking for advice. It was late on Monday night, my husband was not yet home from work, and I was afraid to use my own phone number to call the Craigslist poster. I have a traceable social media footprint so I did not want to spook the Craigslist poster into knowing that I was actually the owner of this bike.

The Facebook group and a couple friends encouraged me to call Portland Police Bureau, who said they would send out an officer. As I waited for the officer, I downloaded all relevant photos of my bike, including two photos I had of my bike’s serial number on the bottom part of the frame. I also had photos of my bike and me with my bike. Luckily, I had also registered my bike on Project 529 which is free and also includes the serial number registration and proof I had previously registered in September 2015. All of my evidence was gathered and I retroactively filed an online police report for stolen property.

The officer from Portland Police Bureau arrived and I showed him all of my evidence. At this point it was 11:30PM, but we decided to send a text anyway. We texted using the officer’s phone and we received a response from the Craigslist poster. They stated they were going to bed, but still had the bike. We then asked if we could see it the next morning, but we didn’t hear back (they probably fell asleep). The officer was working night shift, so he told me a daytime officer could help with the next steps the following morning.

Yesterday morning, I woke up and did not hear from the officer. At that point, he had already been off duty for a couple hours so I knew I was starting from scratch again. Taking a risk, I texted the Craigslist poster from my phone. Than an hour later I left a voicemail. We also texted from my husband’s phone. Four hours later (felt like an eternity), I finally heard back. I was so worried my bike had been sold. Turns out it had not, whew! Over the course of a couple texts throughout the rest of the day (again, feeling like an eternity), we arranged a time and place to meet.

About 45 minutes prior to meeting, I called Portland Police Bureau to update the online police report and to request officer presence for this exchange. A couple minutes later, an officer called me back to ask for the details. I told her where and when we would be meeting and she requested I call her as soon as I saw the Craigslist poster and the bike, even if I wasn’t able to talk. That would be her cue to pull up to our meeting location.

As I turned the corner and walked up to our meeting location, I saw my bike against the wall and the Craigslist poster smoking a cigarette. Immediately I could tell the seat had been swapped out, a rear reflector had been added, and my bike was shiny and clean! That said, a couple things were also removed – my light mounts, my bell, water holders, and my fenders.

I was nervous! The poster suggested we look at the bike in a garage attached to the building about 10 feet away and I respectfully declined, realizing this poster wasn’t the innocent third party I thought they were. I discreetly called the officer’s phone number to send the signal. Then, I stalled asking questions, testing out the brakes, and standing over the frame. I was nervous that the officer might get delayed or may not show up, but PPB came through and timing was perfect! About 30 seconds later, the officer pulled up and revealed that the bike was stolen property, and that it did in fact, belong to me. The officer told me I was free to go.

As much as I would have loved to linger and see what happened, I was still going on adrenaline and still very nervous, so I got out of there as fast as I could!

As I was walking home (I was still nervous and didn’t want to ride home yet- also the seat was a little too high), the officer called me back and thanked me for calling it in. It was a very classy move and I am so thankful for PPB!


Tina is lucky, but she created her luck by doing several things right: Contacting the police, registering her bike before it was stolen, and having photographic proof of ownership.

So what are you waiting for? Go register your bike and snap some photos right now! We recommend using Project 529 and/or Bike Index.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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