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Public Safety

New York Avenue bicycle thief caught, then released

At the beginning of October, I caught a young boy in the act of stealing a bicycle wheel at the New York Avenue Metro station. Last night, I helped police finally catch him. But he wasn't arrested.

Photo by the author.

Jaime and I were taking a quick walking tour of NoMa with ANC 6C04 commissioner Tony Goodman when we saw the boy ride his bike past us. An extra bicycle wheel was hanging from the handlebars. I recognized him immediately, and called 911 to report what we saw. The police arrived a couple minutes later, took a report, and promised to check the area where we saw the boy going to see what they could find.

Ten minutes later, we were at the corner of 1st and M NE, in front of the CVS, when we saw the boy bike past us again. Jaime saw a police cruiser coming south on 1st Street, and I flagged them down. The police asked me to jump in, and we headed the wrong way down M Street toward North Capitol, where the boy was headed.

At the corner of M and North Capitol, we caught up to him. The officer driving the car chirped the siren, and pulled to the curb when the boy started biking faster. Both officers (from the 1st District) got out of the car and started questioning the boy about the wheel we had seen him carrying minutes earlier.

He denied knowing anything about it. The officers talked to him for a few minutes until a gentleman showed up. It turned out this was the boy's father. More questioning eventually led the boy to admit that the wheel was in his room in their house. His father sent him home to bring it back to the police.

It turns out the boy was 13. The police didn't arrest him, and I don't know what his father did or said after we drove away. I hope that he realizes what he's been doing is wrong, and I hope (at least) he really knows he's being watched now.

Remember, keep using a cable lock and a u-lock when you park at the New York Avenue Metro station. Don't leave a wheel unlocked where this boy, or anyone else for that matter, could walk away with it and take it home.

Cross-posted at The District Curmudgeon.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 


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"I hope that he realizes what he's been doing is wrong, and I hope (at least) he really knows he's being watched now. "

Yeah...good luck with that

by Onestar on Oct 28, 2011 2:02 pm • linkreport

What is supposed to happen to 13 yr olds that steal bike parts? Summary execution? Slap on the wrist? 100 hours community service?

I recognize this is a sad story, but no suggestion for improvement other than to carry a bigger lock??

by Jim on Oct 28, 2011 2:36 pm • linkreport

Should be a trigger to get social services involved to at least take a look. The parent(s) have to know this is going on.

by Will on Oct 28, 2011 2:49 pm • linkreport

Hold the parents accountable. Kids are their responsibility. Parents then have motivation to teach the kids to behave better.
I think a court date and fine would be appropriate.

by JH on Oct 28, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

Some sort of supervised community service seems fair. I hope the police at least took his information down, and notified his school.

by MrTinDC on Oct 28, 2011 2:50 pm • linkreport

Hold parents accountable. They should have their kids under control. Upon repeated offenses, the kid could enter some type of community service.

by Jasper on Oct 28, 2011 3:20 pm • linkreport

The dilemma is - DC Dept of Youth Rehabilitation Services is already overstressed to the point of near-collapse - how many escapees have committed serious crimes? (Like the recent murder of the taxi driver.) So maybe, with a basic crime like this, when the police officer now knows who the kid is, and has talked to the father, just maybe that is enough. (The wheel was returned; the stolen bike probably couldn't be pursued, practically speaking.) Maybe the father will lay down the law to the kid. Maybe the kid will respond to a brush with the law, knowing that the cop will remember him. Maybe this is a way to handle things at the lowest level without throwing a kid into a system designed to handle much harder crime. Isn't this why we want community policing? Isn't it worth a try?

by OctoberSnow on Oct 28, 2011 3:38 pm • linkreport

Given the demographic realities of that neighborhood, the kid already has a better than 1-in-3 chance of serving a prison sentence in his lifetime. That kind of statistic is a national disgrace, a profound indictment of our social policies.

The answer isn't "putting more kids in prison." We've taken that road further than any other country in the world, and it hasn't worked yet.

by Jay R. on Oct 28, 2011 7:20 pm • linkreport

You're right, Jay, the answer isn't to put more kids in prison. But the answer also shouldn't be coddling juvenile criminals to the point where they know they can get away with just about anything that doesn't involve a homicide, as has been DC's policy for, what, 30 years now?

I've been mugged twice in my 18 years in DC, both times by kids who couldn't have been older than 15. Both times, the police officer who took my report said the same thing: "It won't matter if we catch them; they'll be back out on the streets -- with no punishment -- within hours."

by Anon on Oct 28, 2011 8:16 pm • linkreport

Cane him

by TGEOA on Oct 28, 2011 11:40 pm • linkreport

While Geoff had the latitude to decide whether to give the kid a break or not, I don't see how that cop had that same latitude. That cop is paid by us to enforce the law, not to pass judgement. The kid may be innocent and there may be extenuating circumstances mitigating his alledged illegal actions. But that is for the judicial system to decide and not the cop. Once that cop knew for sure the kid had committed the crime, his responsibility was to arrest the kid. He's done that kid no good teaching him that he can get away with doing whatever he likes.

by Lance on Oct 29, 2011 8:43 am • linkreport

The "But he wasn't arrested" in the first paragraph is an interesting choice. Why wasn't he arrested, it makes one want to splutter! Oh, that DC justice system--such a revolving door!

But I have to tell you, by the time I got to the penultimate paragraph and saw that the boy was thirteen, I felt a bit taken in. A juvenile was caught in an act of low-value larceny. He returned the stolen merchandise and was turned over to his parents. That honestly seems pretty appropriate to me.

Geoff, would you have liked to see him locked up?

by Mister Goat on Oct 30, 2011 11:14 pm • linkreport

Mister Goat: I hope he chooses not to break the law again. I think the action taken by the police was appropriate for the situation.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Oct 30, 2011 11:17 pm • linkreport

Chop off his hand. And the father's. A good use of Islamic law.

by Redline SOS on Oct 31, 2011 8:53 am • linkreport

Two other actions should have taken place.

A police record should have been made of the boy's theft and return of the wheel. And, police should have requested and been allowed by the boy's foather to enter the boy's house/room to look for additional stolen goods....there very likely would have been.

Establishing a written police report is standard and necessary.... All the retail stores do it even for kids caught shoplifting 99 cent candy bars

by Lost Kids Bike on Oct 31, 2011 2:21 pm • linkreport

The police did everything correct here, no arrests or court action is needed against a 13 y.o. boy for bike theft (or his parents). It's up to the parents to discipline their child, or not... thereby shaping their child's future as a responsible adult, or not. You can't expect the police or the courts to discipline or raise a child. You also can't expect the police to search a home without a warrant. Any suggestion otherwise is a slippery slope against all of our civil liberties. The real suggestion is to go back to the boy's home and try to talk with the parents about the behavior. Whatever the response, ask if they would allow the boy to work off his theft with chores around your house or yard, rake leaves, etc -- a more old school approach. Then you can reward the boy for a job well done with a trip to the movies or cash (maybe offer the reward on the second job -- but keep involved)... That way you'll hopefully instill a good lesson about responsibility and possibly be a positive experince or role model as this boy enters manhood by being part of his community. It's the whole "takes a village" outlook. I'm not saying this is easy, but blaming the system sure is.

If the parents object or don't offer a solution of their own - basically tell you to F-off, then you stay nice and say "I'll never bother you again" -- the boy has probably been a lost cause from birth, and you should buy two locks for your bike.

People may call me crazy, but it's what neighbors actually do (or did) to help each other right a wrong, especially when it concerns a young person. I think you'd be surprized what a little face-to-face with your neighbor will accomplish. I don't always have the best conversations with my neighbors and sometimes we get pissed at each other, but when conversation and compromise can remain on the table a solution is always found.

by Fonzy on Oct 31, 2011 4:21 pm • linkreport

No Fonzy, the police did not.

The boy committed theft. Theft is against the law. There should be a record that this boy broke the law. And punishment for theft should have been applied. Such punishment could be community service. The boy could have been assigned to clean the bike area of the metro station every day for 30 minutes for 3 months. Also, they parents should be forced to pay restitution to the bike owner if any damage was done to the wheel that their child stole. Bike wheels are not cheap.

In the old days, the parents/family did all of the work of raising their children. They took the child to apologize - and offered to pay damages on whatever the child did wrong. But guess what: the old days are gone, if ever they existed.

When parents do not parent, society has no choice but to step in. Actions have consequences. Forgiving the little snowflake for (repeated) theft does nothing for society.

by greent on Nov 1, 2011 2:20 pm • linkreport

The clear solution here is the continued gentrification of NoMa, Eckington, and the greater Atlas District. I'm not in favor of either the ethics or the administrative costs of having police lock up 13 year-old bike thieves. At the same time, you don't see a whole lot of bike thefts or taser incidents in Cleveland Park. Once some enterprising firm turns the Uline into something useful, and the neighboring houses and condos follow suit, New York Ave will be as safe as Dupont.

by WB on Nov 1, 2011 2:53 pm • linkreport

Why such a tough-guy attitude? Where you not a 13 year old once, trying to learn the ways of the world? Giving the boy an arrest record will probably seal his fate. You probably say "Good! The little snowflake deserves it!" Actually, he doesn't... He deserves a second chance. You can't comprehend the challenges this young man has and will always face in his life. And, you should feel fortunate that life has provided you so many opportunities not available to him.

Walk a mile with him my friend, before you condemn him to walk a cell block...

by Fonzy on Nov 1, 2011 4:41 pm • linkreport


When I was a 13 year old, I didn't steal bike parts. Getting some cuffs on his wrists and a trip to the station may scare the little guy straight.

Is the thief in question light brown in complexion and was he wearing a white kufi (Islamic headwear)? If so, I saw this lovely lad walking up my street holding a bike tire just yesterday.

There is clearly someone engaged in serial theft of bike parts at NY Ave metro.

He must have a pecuniary motive (selling the parts to some adult)? The child should be arrested and interrogated to find out who he is selling the parts to, if anyone.

by bike theft victim on Nov 1, 2011 5:22 pm • linkreport

Hey, difference of opinions all welcome here. Using terms like "snowflake," not helpful. Can't agree with the scared straight viewpoint though -- that could be seen as a badge of honor, right of passage from peers -- I don't think it would work, and should be the last option for such a young person.
Victim does make a good point about a possible bike theft ring, and if true, using police resources for that might be warranted. Have to find proof, but shaking down a 13 year old is probably not the preferred option of MPD, regardless of how anyone here feels about it.

by Fonzy on Nov 1, 2011 5:51 pm • linkreport


mine is not a "tough guy" attitude. It is also not a "he did nothing wrong" attitude. I did not say jail time or throw the book at him or any such drivel - I did say he should not walk scot free with a stern lecture. I said community service to teach the young lad that actions have consequences. Why is that bad to you?

A theft and community service would be wiped from his record if he never did more crime. If he continued in criminality, the record would stand for what it is: a pattern of criminality. That is not tough guy - that is a good solid approach.

Why do you think it is a good idea to not teach this lad accountability for theft? This is the 2nd time he has been seen stealing bike parts. That sir, is a pattern not a one time offense.

Walk a mile in the shoes of a person who has to go spend $150 of their hard earned cash to replace a wheel on their bike before you say this person who committed theft should not be treated like a juvenile thief.

by greent on Nov 1, 2011 6:09 pm • linkreport

brand all bike thieves. Make them have to wear an orange armband that says "i suffer from kleptomania and lack of empathy, and i am under the scrutiny of law enforcement".

Realistically, this kid should have gotten community service duties. Theft is wrong no matter the age. In a a horrific economy, with the rise in popularity of bikes and thus prices, bike theft of any kind cannot be tolerated. Bike theft is car theft. It denies someone of their primary vehicle of transport.

by goon on Jan 9, 2012 12:36 pm • linkreport

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