Bike stolen? One Park Slope family simply stole it back

The Brooklyn Paper
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Here’s one way to defeat bicycle theft: steal back the wheels yourself.

A Park Slope family became vigilantes after a week-long search for their stolen bike led to Ditmas Park — but police called to the scene would not reclaim it for them.

Christian John and his family’s oversized Dutch cycle disappeared from its nightly parking place on Fifth Avenue and Third Street sometime between Nov. 23 and Thanksgiving Day. After finding the beloved bike gone, John filed a police report, mounted a neighborhood fliering effort, and alerted members of his church congregation.

The story was reported on BikeBlogNYC and BrooklynSpoke, who published pictures of the unique cycle with the family’s number, as well.

A week passed until a Ditmas Park resident called the Johns on Dec. 2, saying that a bicycle locked on Cortelyou Road looked similar to one he’d seen on the Internet.

The family rushed to the scene, kids in tow, and called the police only to discover that the cops would not cut the lock without the bike’s serial number.

Neither John nor his wife, Amy, had the digits, but they did have plenty of family pictures with the cycle, but it wasn’t enough to convince the police.

“The cops were like cops,” said John. “I guess they have bigger fish to fry than stolen bicycles.”

Of course, that’s not how the NYPD saw it.

“How do we know it’s their bike?” a police spokesman asked later. “We can’t give people back stuff just because they say it’s theirs. We need some sort of proof of purchase and a serial number.”

That’s the official word, of course, but police policy is not entirely consistent. After all, John had filed a report with the 78th Precinct in Park Slope a week before about the stolen cycle — and no one asked for the serial number then.

Nonetheless, according to John, the policeman on the scene suggested to his wife that there’s another way around the proper channels.

“He told her, ‘I’m going say to you that the lock doesn’t look like it would be that difficult to cut,’ ” said John, who rushed to a hardware store, bought a bolt cutter and used it to liberate his stolen two-wheeler, one of an estimated 100,000 cycles that are stolen each year in the city.

But this story of Wild West justice in modern Brooklyn had a happy ending, including the cliched ride into the sunset.

“I clipped it,” said John. “And then we got in the bike and rode the kids home.”

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at
Updated 5:28 pm, July 9, 2018: Story was altered to better reflect the timeline. That said, some of our commenters are, frankly, going too far to suggest that Rupert Murdoch's ownership of The Paper "ruined" this story. The Paper has the same editor — a flawed human being like the rest of us — before Murdoch bought the Paper and after. Sorry, folks.
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Reasonable discourse

Eric McClure from Park Slope says:
"Pedals," not "peddles."
Dec. 13, 2011, 5:34 am
S from PPW says:
Unless she sells her kids every day, it's pedals.
Dec. 13, 2011, 6:58 am
Jet Jones from Park Slope says:
Good for them. Its nice to see people are still willing to handle things themselves.
Dec. 13, 2011, 9:38 am
adamben from bedstuy says:
it's like they found zuzu's petals!
Dec. 13, 2011, 10:17 am
FP from WT says:
Yes Jet, this worked out but if the people that stole it originally caught them and had a gun or knife, this might be more of a tragic story..
Dec. 13, 2011, 12:57 pm
Dominic from Carroll Gardens says:
Love it...Straight BKLYN move! You go pops!!!
Dec. 13, 2011, 4:49 pm
Steve Nitwitt from Sheepshead Bay says:
I bet Gersh still hasn't found his bike
Dec. 13, 2011, 7:54 pm
Christian J from Park Slope says:
For the record, I'm not happy about this story. (I'll be emailing Eli) Most of the stuff in there (talking with the cops etc.) was my wife - not me. SHE's the hero of this story, not me!
Dec. 14, 2011, 7:33 am
bill from Williamsburg says:
Dec. 14, 2011, 8:18 am
Former Regular Source from Brooklyn says:
Christian J:

That's standard operating procedure at Brooklyn Papers: Only very rarely is a person happy about a Brooklyn Paper story in which they appear.

As soon as a Brooklyn Paper reporter starts talking to you, you can pretty much be certain that you will, in one way or another, feel burned, screwed, maligned, mocked, misquoted or misunderstood once your name actually appears in print.

It didn't always used to be that way around here, but then Rupert Murdoch purchased the paper and things changed.
Dec. 14, 2011, 10:12 am
nobody from brooklyn says:
What a dumb—— taking his kids on a mission to get his stolen —— back. Didn't he think a person who is enough of a lowlife to steal a bike might be a little dangerous?

I would have gone with some toughguy friends.
Dec. 14, 2011, 12:25 pm
tee gee from sunset park says:
That's our police force for you - they won't enforce the law, but they will advise you on breaking the law and looking the other way....makes you think, are we paying too much for cops or do we even need cops at all?
Dec. 14, 2011, 12:39 pm
Chrisitian J from Park Slope says:
Update: the reporter took my feedback and made some changes to the story - better including my family.

And, for the record, I was at work when my wife got the call and the man who found it was waiting with two police officers. Also, it was in a high traffic area with store owners giving them shelter while they waited for me to arrive.
Dec. 14, 2011, 2:16 pm
Amy from Park Slope says:
Hi there! The "mom" in the story speaking:
First a big thank you to The Brooklyn Paper for taking an interest in our little family. Thanks also for updating the story to include all of us. We're pretty darn happy to have our bike back, and while "stealing" it back makes for a great story, I'm quite sad that you guys focused on that- the most insignificant part of our adventure. You completely skipped over the most important aspect of our experience: community. Let me tell you about our community here in Brooklyn. The day after our bike went missing, we posted flyers around the neighborhood, and within an HOUR, we had emails coming in from strangers offering to help in any way they could; blogging about us, emailing others, keeping an eye out. A homeless man offered to spread the word and keep looking for us. We only found the bike because someone linked a blog post about us from another Brooklyn bike blog to his blog, and then a man read it there, saw the bike, and called us. This kind man didn't stop there either, he guarded the bike for almost an hour until we could get there, and then even after to help us stay safe as we awaited the police. And it's not only him. Not a day goes by that we don't hear shouts from a neighbor we've never met, "Hey! You found it!" or "You got it back!" Most of those people talk to us because they genuinely care and want to hear our story. We've met more neighbors and made more connections since those flyers went up than we have in our whole 8 years in Brooklyn. When we agreed to this article, we thought you would highlight this amazing community we live in. We're flattered that you seemed to be impressed by our family, but really our Brooklyn family is the real group of heros. They not only found our bike, but have supported us 100% with kind words and thoughts. This is the magic in our story. I'm so sorry that you missed it the first time around.
Dec. 16, 2011, 12:22 am
PaulCJr from East Village says:
To the family congrats and I recommend buying a Kryptonite Fahgettaboudit or their Legend Chain. These two locks I mentioned are serious locks. You can also go to a hardware store like my buddy did and get a chain with links bigger than anything I've seen at a LBS.
Dec. 19, 2011, 8:42 pm
Tomg1157 from Park Slope (Former) says:
---"it's like they found zuzu's petals!"

I think they found Zuzu's pedals.
Dec. 20, 2011, 2:14 pm
Terry from Park Slope says:
Amy, that's s a beautiful description of the way "community" can work. Neighbors willing to stand up, look beyond themselves, and unselfishly seek to help another neighbor with their quest. It may seem to some to be tremendously brave (and it was) even risky for that person who stood by the bike to make sure that you found it and equally risky (and brave) for you and Christian to go get it; but when you feel the safety that comes from the strength of those in the community willing to stand up and be brave along side of you, the result is that we're emboldened to live in a way that makes us feel a little more whole rather than just passively accept a status quo. We're here for you and thanks for sending out the ripple to make us all feel a little braver.
Dec. 20, 2011, 8:15 pm
Uppity Cyclist from Park Slope says:
The NYPD cops should have accepted a copy of your theft report, if you had it. It is difficult for the cops to verify who owns a bike, there's no universal system like with cars.

One of the NYPD's best-kept secrets is their free bicycle registration program, available at every precinct near you, which stamps a precinct-specific registration number on the bike. The program is so obscure I question whether the beat cops would have known how to look up a registration number (the first part of the reg# is the precinct, call up the crime prevention officer in that precinct, who digs out the paper book with the registrations), but it's better than nothing.
Dec. 23, 2011, 4:03 pm
Terry from Ft. Greene says:
Thanks for the update, "mom". Strength of community is a beautiful thing.
Dec. 24, 2011, 4:57 pm

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