Theft has reached new levels at California Polytechnic University.
On the night of March 30th, the Cal Poly Triathlon Team House was broken into and roughly $20,000 worth of bikes and household items were stolen. All of the bikes were recovered from Cuesta River and homeless encampments, yet many of the other items were broken or not found. The thieves have been identified, yet no arrests have been made for this robbery and home invasion.
“The homeless in Slo have very expensive tastes in bikes,” said Triathlon House resident and Cal Poly Senior Alex MacLean.
Eight bikes ranging in value from $100 to $10,000, a safe containing important documents and checks, a computer, an iPad, dumbbells (which were left at the bottom of the driveway), and a camera were some of the items taken from the house.
“It’s ridiculous,” said fourth year environmental engineering major and Triathlon House resident Mason Johnson. “Clearly they came in, grabbed the dumbbells, carried them outside and then realized that they were too heavy to steal, which is absolutely ridiculous.
All seven members of the triathlon house had belongings taken, however only Alex MacLean, Abraham Muldrow and their two girlfriends were in the house when the event took place. Remaining residents Mason Johnson, Jacob Krynock, Max Stapel-Kalat, Sean Moran, and Sam Blakewell were away in Georgia competing in the Collegiate Triathlon National Championships.
“All of the cars were out of the driveway, so the thieves must have thought we all weren’t home,” said fourth year business major Sam Blakewell. “We are lucky no one got hurt.”
On the morning after the robbery, MacLean left the house to get coffee without realizing anything out of the ordinary. Later in the morning, Muldrow woke to go to a meeting on campus and discovered he couldn’t find his backpack.
Assuming he left his backpack at his girlfriend Avery Ancell’s house, Muldrow went downstairs to grab his bike.
“I ran up and down the stairs multiple times and then I was like, fine, I can’t find my backpack. I just need to grab my bike to go to Avery’s,” said Muldrow. “I looked in the transition room (the room where all of the bikes are kept) and one of Alex’s plants was knocked over and all the bikes were missing.”
Muldrow’s first impulse was that someone hid the bikes as a prank, however, after continuing to look around the house and outside, he came to a dark realization.
“I think the moment when I finally realized they were stolen is when I saw a pink highlighter from my backpack down the street at the end of the driveway.”
Startled and confused, Muldrow called MacLean.
“I called him and said ‘hey, all the bikes are gone, I think we got robbed’,” remarked Muldrow. “I sent him a picture and he didn’t believe me. I was like, Alex, it’s the 31st. It’s not April fools. We’re not getting pranked.”
After receiving the phone call, MacLean returned from coffee and ran down the road to Cuesta River and Park, a popular place for the homeless. Ancell (who had stayed at the house that night) called the cops and Abe went to Cuesta as well to help Alex.
“I went to the river and saw Abe’s backpack and laptop laying in the water,” explained MacLean. “I ran further down to find more of our possessions just spewed out in the creek.”
Unlike typical thefts which are planned and carefully executed, the robbery seemed unmethodical and haphazard. The majority of stolen items were thrown in Cuesta River.
“There was an assortment of random stuff spewed around, my like vaccine card was just kind laying on the side of the tunnel,” said Muldrow. “I saw the safe, and then my computer in the water, and a bunch of other things I didn’t realize were stolen.”
Mason Johnson, who’s room is closest to the front door, had the most amount of personal items stolen along with his bike.
“The thieves rummaged through my room, and went through my closet and desk area. I ended up loosing all of my camera equipment, and my iPad that I used for school was thrown in the river wrapped in a towel,” Johnson remarked. “They also took my pencil case, which was incredibly frustrating because I realized as I was going to class that morning that I had no writing utensils.”
Muldrow and MacLean ventured further down the river to find four of the seven stolen bikes submerged in the water.
The police arrived on scene and helped them search in the river for remaining bikes, however the other three bikes (an S-Works Crux, Canyon Ultimate CF SL, and a Giant Mountain bike) remained unfound. Officer Brandon Tyler of San Louis Police Department took their statements and was in charge of the case.
Generally, victims of bike theft have the highest probability of success if they take matters into their own hands and actively search for their belongings. An article by Mustang News reported that students have overwhelmingly low faith in the police to get their bikes back, and a report found that out of 223 stolen bike reports to San Luis Police Department in 2020, only 29 were recovered.
Muldrow and MacLean continued to search the river and homeless encampments around San Luis Obispo. When the other Triathlon House Residents returned from competing in Georgia a few days after the theft, they helped as well.
One day while searching the camps—Johnson, MacLean, and Krynock met a kind individual that lives in Cuesta Park and goes by Jerry Monopoly.
Monopoly stated that he had seen the thieves move through the camp and confirmed this by knowing the make and model of the stolen bikes.
“He actually had his items stolen by the same group of people that morning we spoke with him,” said Johnson. “We know it was the same group of people because he was able to visually confirm the identity of two of the bikes that were taken.”
Monopoly informed Johnson that the thieves were three homeless men that lived in the far end of Questa Park, one an alcoholic and the others addicted to meth.
With insight from Monopoly, the members of Triathlon House searched more camps around SLO.
“There were a bunch of stolen bikes, but none of them were ours,” said MacLean.
Unlike Monopoly, the majority of encampment residents were not cooperative or kind when asked questions, yet MacLean still managed to get some valuable information.
“They were sort of hostile, definitely didn’t really wanna talk to me, but they did say that the police had come by the day before and taken a bunch bikes, which was a good sign for us,” MacLean remarked.
Typically police raids are very uncommon in San Luis but due to the rapid increase in theft, police have started entering encampments.
“I have four coworkers, three of whom have had thefts in the last two weeks,” said Johnson. “It’s frustrating given the fact that I’m pretty sure they went into the camp to get our bikes, but made no arrests.”
Many bike theft victims express frustration on how it is all handled. It seems as if the police have no intention of punishing the criminals, which is probably why bike theft in SLO continues to rise. Thieves most likely have realized that recovery rate is slim and probability of punishment is unlikely, which is incentive to continue.
On April 8th, Muldrow got a call from the police informing him that their bikes had been recovered and were being processed. On Monday, April 11th, they were able to pickup the three bikes from the station.
“It was like a sigh of relief,” said third year Jacob Krynock who owns the S-Works Crux.
It turns out the bikes were recovered from a homeless encampment the day after the theft took place and were in police storage waiting to be processed.
“When I picked up the bikes, the cops said that having the serial number helped me get them back and I probably wouldn’t have gotten them back if I didn’t give them the serial number,” said Muldrow. “It would’ve have taken months to process and match descriptions to reports, or they wouldn’t have gotten around to giving me the bike back because they have so many bikes in storage.”
Reconnecting recovered bikes to their owners is a big issue, and it is highly advised that all cyclists know their serial numbers.
Most bikes don’t get returned, and the residents of the Triathlon House are very lucky to have all the bikes back.
Since the incident, they have upped security and pinned notes on the door for potential intruders. While they are thankful for the police’s help, many of the residents believe that policy around theft needs to be changed.
“I have nothing wrong with the way that some people either find themselves living their lives or choose to live their lives, but I think that breaking into someone’s house and stealing their stuff shouldn’t just go unpunished,” said Johnson. “The people are still out there, which is really frustrating and also scary. I don’t want that to happen to someone else. I don’t want them to have to go through what we went through.”