It was a bad day for Andrew J. Koffel.
Police were investigating a possible theft ring operating from a motel room in west Spokane on May 27 when officers spotted Koffel, 27, and another man walking away from the motel with four bicycles.
One had a decal from an Indiana bike shop. Officers quickly identified it as the bicycle police Chief Frank Straub, a recent Indianapolis resident, reported stolen from his garage.
“His timing was just absolutely horrendous,” Straub said. “They took the seat. They took the pedals, but I got my bike back.”
The three other bicycles were confiscated, but they remain in storage because they hadn’t been reported stolen. Officer Teresa Fuller said the case serves as an example of why crime victims should report stolen items – both so they can be returned if located and so police can target problem areas for heavier enforcement.
“We can’t return it if we don’t know that it’s missing,” Fuller said.
Straub’s bicycle was stolen after someone forced open a window in his garage last month. It’s an all-too-common story in Spokane these days. Of the 10 largest cities in Washington, only Everett had a higher property crime rate in 2011, according to FBI data.
Officers weren’t specifically looking for Straub’s bike when they went to the West Wynn Motel, 2701 W. Sunset Blvd., but they suspected stolen property was there, Fuller said. They were led to the motel after Officer Wayne Downing stopped a man on a bicycle downtown for not wearing a helmet and failing to yield. He told officers where he got the bike.
Traci Hilliard, manager of the motel, said police found at least 20 bicycles in a room at the motel.
“When police came I couldn’t believe how many bicycles were in there,” Hilliard said.
Hilliard said all West Wynn guests agree to weekly mandatory room checks. Housekeepers never saw more than a few bikes in the room, she said. The guests were evicted soon after police found the bicycles.
Koffel faces a charge of third-degree possession of stolen property. No one answered the door on Thursday at the South Hill apartment listed as his address in court records. A neighbor said residents living in that unit were recently evicted.
Fuller said the investigation is ongoing and that she is unaware of other arrests.
Hilliard said most of the residents at the motel don’t have cars and often ride bicycles, so heavy bicycle traffic around the West Wynn didn’t raise suspicions.
One of the occupants of the room that was busted, however, once asked if she wanted to buy a bicycle, Hilliard said. She declined the offer.
Fuller suggests that bicycle owners register their bikes with their closest Community Oriented Police Services substation. The volunteer police program takes bike information, including serial numbers, to help identify them in case of theft. Bicycle owners can find the phone numbers for the closest substation at the COPS website, spokanecops.org. If owners don’t do that, they should at least keep the bike’s serial number in a safe place and take photos of it, she said.
Bike owners also shouldn’t leave bicycles unlocked and should keep their doors locked.
“We all see the grown men riding around on BMX bikes that they probably got on somebody’s porch,” Fuller said.