Sergeant Matt Friedman on Shotwell Street between 18th and 19th streets, citing a man suspected of bike theft, on August 15, 2016. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

A police crackdown on bike “chop shops” in the Mission District on Monday netted just one suspect: a homeless man who insisted the bikes and parts police loaded into their vehicle had not been stolen.

Moreover, he added, he was a friend of police shooting victim Luis Gongora Pat and like Gongora Pat, he said, he fixed the bikes of homeless people.

“I do bike repair for poor people,” he said, adding that he gets clothes, food, and other items in exchange for his services, though “the majority of the time [people] don’t give me shit.”

In a back-and-forth between the homeless man and Sergeant Matt Friedman on Monday, Friedman expressed disbelief that the dozens of bike parts he had lifted from the man’s tent were not stolen.

“If you’re an avid bike rider, why do you accept this crap?” Friedman said, motioning at the bike parts scattered around them.

“If I weren’t here fixing people’s flats, half these people would go out and steal tires,” the homeless man replied.

“You got like 30 bike tires and rims here — you don’t think any of that stuff’s stolen?” Friedman continued.

“I keep it clean,” said the man, shrugging.

Another homeless man on the block, who also wished to remain anonymous, said he often sees people riding up to the man to get their bikes fixed.

“People do bring him parts and stuff, like ‘Here’s a flat tire,’” he said. “He’ll stop to help them.”

Others on the block declined to talk about the bike repair man, though one woman rode up on her bike as he was fixing his now-dismantled tent and asked him if he was alright.

Some of the bike parts confiscated on August 15, 2016, during a police crackdown on a “chop shop.” Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

The encounter came after Sergeant Friedman, who runs the Twitter account @SFPDBikeTheft, announced on Sunday night that he would be patrolling the Mission District to enforce against “chop shops” in the encampments where police believe stolen bikes are disassembled and sold.

“We will be rolling around the Mission tomorrow dealing w/ chop shops starting at 1200,” his tweet read. “Tweet at us if u see something u want us 2 checkout.”

Friedman received several responses, most of which centered on the northeast corner of the Mission District, an area of industrial buildings where homeless encampments often occupy entire blocks. Bike parts are often seen strewn around several encampments in the area.

But Friedman and his partner, Officer Gary Cheng, made just one stop on their tour of the neighborhood. There, they arrested the homeless suspect near 1 p.m. on Shotwell Street between 18th and 19th streets — the same block where in April San Francisco police officers shot and killed Gongora Pat, a homeless man who also lived on the block.

The officers looked through the man’s tent for bike parts, handcuffed him, and loaded all they could onto their truck. Sitting on the sidewalk, the suspect talked about his friendship with Gongora Pat, the homeless man who was shot and killed down the block.

“He was a bike mechanic too,” said the handcuffed suspect. “He taught me some tricks he knew on bikes, and I taught him a few tricks myself.”

The homeless suspect said that he has seen an increase in customers since Gongora Pat’s death, since Spanish speakers who used to go to Gongora Pat now come to him.

“He was really famous in this area for bikes, especially for the non-English speakers,” said the suspect. “He would do bike repair to make ends meet.” 

The homeless suspect denied he had any stolen bike parts as both officers loaded tires, frames, pedals, and other bike scraps onto their police truck. He said he gets parts from the garbage piles of bike shops, or gets them from other homeless people as “hand-me-downs.”

In fact, he added, he has not stolen a bike in the last six years and runs an informal repair shop for those who cannot afford to go to bike shops. He has been homeless for the last 10 years but has run the repair shop from the block for the last year or so, he said.

Confiscated bike parts loaded onto the bed of a police pickup truck on August 15, 2016. Photo by Joe Rivano Barros.

Bigger Social Problem

A 2013 city report put the number of reported stolen bikes in San Francisco at 817 for 2012, a 70 percent increase since 2006. Because bike thefts are underreported, however, the report stated that the number was likely closer to 4,085 and estimated that the value of the stolen bikes was $4.6 million for that year.

It’s rare that bikes recovered by the police return to their owners, the report continued. Of 864 stolen bikes recovered by the police in 2012, just 142 — or 16.4 percent — were returned, the report said. It laid the blame on the inability of police officers to find a bike’s proper owners, either because owners do not try to get their bikes back from the police or do not know their bikes’ serial numbers.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, an advocacy group for cyclists, said that though the problem of bike theft is pervasive, chop shops in homeless encampments are just one part of a “hairy” issue with roots in the housing crisis.

“Chop shops are just the most visible symptom of a much larger societal problem,” said Chris Cassidy, a spokesperson for the coalition. “You need to bear in mind the effects of poverty, cost of living, homelessness, and these are things much bigger than the real focus of the San Francisco Bike Coalition.”

To that end, Cassidy said the coalition emphasizes preventing bike theft rather than enforcing against it, adding that the group is “not lobbying for police action or inaction” and does not have a stance on police efforts against chop shops.

He did point to data that cyclists are often people of color and lower-income, and said homeless people in particular may have few options for fixing their bicycles other than the informal shops run by others on the street.

“We need to recognize that not everyone can go into every single bike shop in town and afford the things that they need,” he said. “The cost of living is squeezing a lot of people in our city.”

Cited and Released

The homeless man on Shotwell Street was released from his handcuffs after about an hour and given a notice to appear in court. He faces three misdemeanor violations for “possession of a bike frame with the serial number removed, possession of a burglary tool, and illegal lodging,” according to Sergeant Mike Andraychak, a department spokesperson.

The misdemeanor charges carry up to a year in county jail each or a fine, he said.

The homeless man said that for his part, Officer Friedman was courteous. Friedman asked the man if his handcuffs were too tight and told him the procedure for retrieving the bike parts they were bagging and tagging. After the man’s bike parts had been loaded onto the police truck, Friedman even bought him a burrito.

Join the Conversation

7 Comments

  1. This coverage is woefully incomplete and sadly lacks even an attempt to fairly cover the crisis residents are facing with the criminality in some encampments in the Mission. If you actually took the time to learn how the bike chop shops work (which you strangely put in quotes as though they are made up), you’d spend some time here at night, where you could see cars and bikes pulling up into select encampments engaged in this activity, loading and unloading very expensive bikes where they are very quickly broken down, serial numbers sanded off, and money transferred right there on our sidewalks. Worse than the stolen bikes themselves is the accompanying violent fights, drug use (and selling), prostitution, filth, and security risks that come with allowing criminals to hide in encampments. Instead of writing a cute, easy story about one down-on-his luck homeless man who happens to have a truckload of bike parts and happens to be a bike repairman and happens to be friends with Gongora Pat, how about an investigative piece at night, interviewing the “repairman” who drives up to a camp at 4 am and exchanges money for five bike frames and a couple of expensive seats? That would be dangerous, however, just like it is every single day for residents who live and work in our neighborhood now.

  2. It doesn’t take a genius… Everyone knows where all the bike parts come from. Anyone else is being intentionally obtuse for political purposes.

  3. The writer assumed that that campers belong in the neighborhood, they don’t ! Should been cleared out months ago.

  4. The mission “Activists” that hate techies, don’t want new housing, and want to conserve the mission as it was 20-30 years ago, like this illegal activity. Anything that will deter law abiding people with money coming in to the neighborhood is a good thing. Yay for more crime, yay for prostitiution, hooray for gangs and violence as all of these things keep gentrification down.

    Everyone in the city should start taking bike parts from these chop shops. Just take a wheel, tire, or frame as you walk by. If they try to say anything, just say it was stolen from you and that you will call the police if they try to say anything.

  5. When someone set up tent in front your house and that police allow them to stay’ that means your rights are taken and given the person occupying that space. Also, it assumed that all the issues that person brings to the space u and your family are willing to live with.

  6. and besides that, Donald Trump will be the greatest president ever. Make Mission Great Again !!

    The comments here are proof that the Mission lost,

  7. Shame on the author of this article. Titling something “SFPD Cites Friend of Police Shooting Victim for Bike Theft,” ranting about an unrelated case, and hiding the details of this case (well, the ones you decided to publish anyway) in the very last paragraph? This garbage caused SFPD’s media relations team to take note and make reporting a chop shop via the 311 app or the non-emergency # nearly impossible.

    So while the city could have made progress on something, here we are two years later… Chop shops and other open-air crime remain a thing. Homelessness and tent encampments remain a thing. Techies moving into “your” city remain a thing, while blocking housing remains a thing. Soon we won’t have any space left for sand to stick our heads into.

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