Today, a kid who helps out Bogotá Bike Tours was riding up Seventh Ave. delivering a bicycle to a hotel in North Bogotá when another cyclist blocked his path. When the kid braked, another guy pulled him to the ground and jumped onto his bike and rode off.
Bicycles are very stealeable, since they're small, portable, easy to hide and hard to trace. Most anti-theft advice involves buying a better lock. But if thieves are willing to pull you right off of your bike, it's hard to imagine how to stop them. Unless....
In this case, the kid said the Ciclovia was quite busy when he got mugged, at about 10:30 a.m. Lots of folks were around, and many even stopped riding to watch the crime. But nobody did anything. If only a few of the other cyclists had blocked the thief with their own bikes or grabbed his shirt, he probably would have leaped off of the bike and hotfooted away. After all, from my experience it doesn't take much to dissuade thieves, who are usually cowardly types going after easy money. If criminals were into challenging themselves, they'd get jobs and work.
But nobody did anything - even though their own bicycle could be next.
Bystander apathy is terribly common in Bogotá. A few months ago, a friend and his girlfriend got mugged by several kids with knives. A bunch of guys doing roadwork just a couple of yards away saw the crime, but did nothing. Perhaps they were afraid of getting mugged themselves on their way home from work. Or, maybe, like the local security guard who, I was told, was threatened the other day by a pair of professional muggers on a motorbike, who told him: 'You interfered with our mugging someone the other day. Do that again, and we're going to get you!'
As long as the general, law-abiding, public remains passive and afraid, criminals will continue stealing almost worry-free.
But it doesn't take much. A few months ago I witnessed three kids mug a young couple. Perhaps I should have charged them swinging a board or something. Instead, after some hesitation, I just screamed at them to stop. Amazingly, the muggers did, and ran off. Other people in the street had apparently also seen the incident, but did nothing.
When we filed the police report about today's stolen bike, however, the officer made a good point about our own apathy. Once before, a bicycle got stolen from in front of our shop. Two of us went down to the shops notorious for buying and selling used, obviously stolen, bikes at absurdly low prices. There we found the guy standing with his hand on my just-bought bike. By threatening him with the police, we forced the guy to return the bike.
But we didn't file any police report, leaving the shop free to continue fencing other people's stolen bicycles.
I also asked him why, then, they didn't do something about the city's grave problem of sewer lid thievery. All they'd have to do would be hire some homeless person to visit scrap buyers with a lid, and see which ones bought it. Unlike bicycles, nobody has their own sewer lids, so the buyer and seller are by definition thieves. No, he said, that would be 'inducing someone to commit a crime,' and a sharp lawyer would free his client on such a defense.
I've heard this before. Can it really be true that Colombia doesn't allow such a fundamental police strategy as a sting operation?
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours