Bicycles are being stolen at a rampant pace in the Inner Sunset and Cole Valley neighborhoods, and one salt-and-pepper-bearded crook may be living in the very garages and storage sheds he targets, according to police.
Since Aug. 1, a half-dozen bicycle thefts from residential garages have been reported in the Inner Sunset district alone. The robberies include one in which the burglar pulled a knife on a resident after being caught in the act, Park Station Capt. Denis O’Leary told The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday.
The bike bandits have contributed to a 64 percent spike in residential and commercial burglaries during the last month in SFPD’s Park Station coverage area, which includes parts of Haight Street, Twin Peaks, Western Addition and the Duboce and Castro areas.
Bradley Woehl, owner of the bike store American Cyclery, said residents and police visit his shop frequently while investigating theft reports.
"About 20 percent of our business is replacing people’s stolen bikes or bike parts," Woehl said.
Police believe only a few crooks are responsible for the latest theft uptick. A serial burglar in Cole Valley has been known to pry open the vent on garage doors and use a long stick to press the garage door opener inside, O’Leary said.
Another burglar in the Inner Sunset has had several run-ins with victims. On Aug. 5, a resident in the 1200 block of Second Avenue found the thief ransacking a car in his garage. The suspect pulled a knife on the victim before fleeing on the stolen bike.
O’Leary said the brazen bandit, who "appears to be jumping fences or finding open doors," may even live in some of the garages and sheds where bikes are stolen.
At one crime scene, police found items that didn’t belong there, including a different bike and a water bottle.
"It looked like he was settling down in the storage room," O’Leary said.
O’Leary had put out community warnings and contacted UCSF police and the sheriff’s office about the Inner Sunset thief, who is described as a black man in his mid-40s to late 50s who has a salt-and-pepper beard, has a backpack and often wears a baseball cap.
O’Leary said the best defense for residents is to lock doors and windows, saying 75 percent of burglaries are unlocked entries. Woehl added that buying a quality bike lock and locking bikes, even when they’re indoors, will likely deter thieves.
"Usually nobody ever sees their bikes again," Woehl said. "If you talk to people about the loss of their bike, they feel violated like they did something to a member of their families."