December, 2010

Real Cop Tips For A Would-Be Bicycle Thief Vigilante

My housemate’s bike got stolen two days ago between 12AM and 8AM. The guy used a crow-bar to separate bars of a welded iron fence by our house and made off with her ride. She was upset. I was upset for her. I was upset for us. Our block in Little Tokyo guarantees a certain amount of daily downtown mayhem, but the fence in question stands only 15 ft. from our building. The adjacent parking lot is well-lit, monitored by 24-hour surveillance cameras courtesy of the 24-hour bail bonds businesses that run out of the first floor of our building. Across the way, a shopping plaza has security on overnight foot patrol. The LAPD headquarters is literally across the street.

I’ve been thinking for weeks about buying a new machine to replace my granny-style bike as my mode of transportation to work everyday. But since this disturbance of my domestic peace new, tense, okay, vengeful thoughts have presented themselves. What if a prospective new bike could be used as a decoy to catch our neighborhood fence thug, or better, a legion of neighborhood fence thugs? What if I bought the Swobo-Otis, which I’ve been eyeing online ($719.00), but ALSO bought a semi-automatic bb-gun to man from our second story window on a cold, dark night?

These things were on my mind as I sat having coffee with a friend this past Saturday morning. I had just finished outlining my plans for OLTJMBH (Operation Little Tokyo Justice Must Be Had) when two well-groomed (aren’t they usually-at least in Little Tokyo?) police officers walked into Urth Cafe and sat down next to us. I struck up a conversation with Officer 89902 and told him of my intentions. “Officer, my roommate’s bike was stolen and I’d like to take matters into my own hands. Can you tell me what I can do within the law?” The officer was friendly and helpful. We casually discussed BB-guns, paintball guns, and water guns. He said it was all a matter of getting caught, ha ha, but that actually “defending property with a weapon is illegal.” Defending oneself against assault is okay, but in general, reasonable (rather than killer) force is recommended when apprehending criminals, otherwise you can get in trouble. I learned that while you can’t use a bb-gun, you can use a stun gun, but you’re not allowed to hold anyone captive for an excessive amount of time. Meaning, once you’ve got him handcuffed to the fence, you shouldn’t use your stun gun to make him squeal. Best to call the cops before you make your citizen’s arrest and leave prolonged tazing to the authorities, lest you be sued for excessive force/torture. I also learned, citizens are allowed to “volunteer patrol” neighborhoods in cop cars. They are licensed, given an official vehicle to drive around in, but have no authority to make arrests. On foot and outside of licensed patrol, citizens have privileges that cops don’t have. They / We can enter a building and check things out without probable cause or warrant. I guess trespassing private property’s not allowed, but if something’s amiss, you can always go and investigate the situation as a snoopy citizen. A cop, on the other hand, IS the gov’ment.

Interfering or entering without probable cause or a warrant would be a violation of someone’s civil rights. What this means is that we have the liberty to watch our own neighborhoods and engage in a way that cops can’t–as undercover civilian hawks. It’s not against the law to be on the look-out or to take action when necessary.

Note to bicycle thieves at 1st and Los Angeles–

I have a super-soaker and it’s filled with fish oil.