Full Story on Bike-Trailer Caper

Note: A shorter version of this story appeared in the Alameda Journal today, Friday, July 8.

An Alameda resident recovered a stolen bike trailer just two days after it was taken recently, thanks to the efforts of a fellow member of the Alameda Parents Network, an online support and information group. Other items recovered with the trailer, however, apparently were not handled correctly by Alameda police, prompting criticism from the woman who retrieved the stolen items and a review of the matter by the department.

Mary Grace Basco, an Alameda resident (above right), realized her bike trailer was stolen early on Friday, June 24. She’d seen her bike and the trailer in the courtyard of her condo complex on Lincoln Avenue the night before. (The bike was locked, though the trailer – attached to the bike by a hitch – was not.)

“I didn’t think someone would just walk around town with a bike trailer. It’s too conspicuous,” Basco shared.

After a police report was filed by her husband, Basco went to a flea market at the Oakland Coliseum, as well to recycling-redemption centers in town, with a photo of the lost trailer. “I had a hunch that someone might use it for their kids, sell it or use it to for hauling.”

Basco also posted a notice about the missing bike trailer on the Internet-based Alameda Parents’ Network. Through the network, she was told that Jennifer Solomon (above left), another Alameda resident and an attorney, had her bike taken from her San Jose Avenue residence early on Saturday, June 25, and was looking everywhere for it. “I sent her a photo of my trailer,” said Basco.

Though Solomon visited several flea markets over the weekend, she didn’t find either her bike or Basco’s trailer. But as she crossed the Park Street Bridge on Sunday, June 26, Solomon thought she spotted the trailer near a parking lot on Blanding Avenue and immediately called Basco and the police.

Basco identified the helmets in the trailer and the trailer’s flags. The police then asked if she wanted to press charges against a woman sitting near the trailer in the Park Street Landing mall, who had apparently filled the trailer with bags of other items.

“I decided to press charges,” said Basco. “It was a difficult question given the person’s condition. I thought this would allow police to make a more complete record of the incident and perhaps that person would get a shower, get fed and have some access to services for the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Police identified the woman as Dianna Ware, 25, a transient. “We made the arrest, and she was charged with possession of stolen property,” said Lt. Sean Lynch, head of the investigations bureau.

Though the issue of the stolen bike trailer had been resolved, Basco and Solomon soon realized that several bags of items from the trailer had been left in the area. “We went through the stuff and then called the police, because we found lots of stuff, including some controlled substances – prescriptions,” said Solomon. The police returned and took the bag of drugs, she said, “but the bulk of the items stayed there.”

Solomon returned to the area the following day, Monday, June 27, only to find that many items still had not been removed. “I found a new cell phone and a charger,” she said.

It took Solomon more than an hour to get in touch with the owner of the phone. “But there were so many bags with dozens of items in them,” she explained, such as phone cords and video-game devices.

“Tuesday, June 27, I drove by to see what was up and saw bags still there,” Solomon said. “I then took the stolen property to a City Council meeting that evening and expressed my concerns. First, an officer had left the scene with controlled substances still in the area, and I wanted to know what the police policy is about this. Also, why were other things left there?”

According to Lt. Lynch, the Alameda Police Department is now reviewing the matter. “Our policy regarding the handling of property, recovered or stolen, was apparently not followed,” he said. “We are taking administrative action accordingly, which includes the appropriate training and discipline for such an issue.

In general, the police department’s policy is designed to ensure that recovered property is “properly handled and documented,” Lt. Lynch explained. “We do our best to handle each call to the best of our abilities,” he said. “If we fall short, we will take corrective steps to meet up to the standards.”

Solomon says the police department and residents could benefit greatly from a community meeting. Advice on how to avoid having items stolen and the importance of keeping track of serial numbers is always helpful, for instance. “If there is more we can do as residents to help the police, we would like to do it,” she said. “When it comes to crime, everyone is touched by it.”

Lt. Lynch says APD has resources and activities in place for community- oriented policing, and it engages in outreach via neighborhood-watch groups and other means. “We try our best to inform the public and get public input on these issues. We take them seriously,” he said.

For her part, Basco says she appreciates the help of the police department in recovering her bike trailer and is very grateful to Solomon and the Alameda Parents Network for their help, too. “She is like my hero, my vigilante bike-trailer hero!” said Basco. “This experience showed me that you need cooperation to move ahead.”

Janet Levaux