With its tree-lined neighborhoods and flat streets, Alameda has long been considered perfect for bicycle-riding. But when those riders park their bikes, thieves sometimes make off with them — and lately, it's happening a lot.
Bicycle thefts have more than doubled in Alameda since last year, prompting police to beef up enforcement and warn owners to make sure their bikes are locked and secure when they are not using them.
"Alameda is a very bicycle-friendly town," police detective Sgt. Jill Ottaviano said. "And many people are using the cruiser-type, single-speed bikes. We have had a ton of those stolen."
Between Jan. 1 and Sept. 1 of this year, 261 bicycle thefts were reported. During the same period last year, 121 thefts were reported.
Sixty-six of the bicycles stolen this year were locked, said Radha Sampathkumar, an Alameda police crime analyst.
Moreover, many of the recent thefts have taken place at Alameda Towne Centre and at the parking garage that serves the Alameda Theater & Cineplex on Central Avenue, Sampathkumar said.
"It's very difficult for us to prevent the thefts that happen off front porches and from backyards," Ottaviano said. "But we have been working on trying to prevent them from the garage and from the shopping center."
Police have had some success.
After a security camera filmed a man and woman stealing two bicycles from the parking garage the afternoon of Sept. 26, Detective Craig Vreeland distributed a photo throughout the police department, asking officers to be on the lookout for the suspects.
Three days later, Sgt. Steve Deutsche spotted a couple matching their description on Park Street.
Omar Perez, 29, of Berkeley, was carrying bolt cutters and other burglary tools in his backpack, police said. Perez was also wanted on outstanding warrants, including for marijuana possession.
His companion, Lori Kim Lopez, 26, of Hayward, was wanted on a warrant for the same offense.
When detectives questioned Lopez, she admitted helping steal the two bicycles — which are worth a total of about $839 — from the garage, as well as the theft of two other bicycles from the same location on Sept. 19, police said.
Alameda police also arrested two teenagers on suspicion of possessing stolen property after they allegedly tried to sell on craigslist.org a bicycle stolen Sept. 23 from outside Island High School.
The student's father recognized the Bianchi 12-speed when he came across the Internet posting and set up an appointment with the seller near Jack London Square in Oakland, ostensibly to purchase the bike back.
Alameda police officers arrested the boys, who are ages 16 and 17, when they showed up for the meeting. Both teens, who live in Alameda, are accused of possessing stolen property.
Each was released after they received a Notice to Appear in juvenile court, Vreeland said. Their names were not disclosed because they are minors.
On Wednesday, police arrested a third suspect, 17, who lives in Alameda, in connection with the case.
"I try to be as careful as I can whenever I park my bike," said Denton Huffman, 57, after he pulled up outside Peet's coffee at Park Street and Central Avenue on a recent afternoon. "But sometimes I'm in a rush and don't lock it. Especially if it's a good neighborhood and I think it's safe. It's probably not the smartest idea. I suppose you cannot be too careful."
Ottaviano said bicycle owners should use "u-locks" to secure their bicycles. Thieves can cut through the cable locks too easily, she said.
Owners also should write down the security numbers of their bicycle, plus take a photo of it, as a way to help investigators track down the bike in the event someone does steal it, police said.
Other steps police recommend include parking your bike while in public at a spot where it's easily visible, and not leaving it on your front porch or in your driveway while at home. Instead, store the bicycle in a locked garage or somewhere else out-of-view from the street.
"I've had lots of bikes stolen, starting from when I was a kid," said Alameda resident Alex Lujan, 33. "It took me awhile, but I've learned my lesson. Now I lock my bike, always, even at home."