Ocean City police say they have broken up a ring that stole bicycles in the resort and sold them in Baltimore.
"They'd steal bicycles and take them up to the Baltimore metropolitan area and sell them on the streets," Jay Hancock, an Ocean City police spokesman, said yesterday. "They'd sell to anybody who wanted to buy a bargain bicycle."
A 23-year-old Harford County man and three teen-agers from Baltimore have been charged with multiple counts of bicycle theft in connection with the alleged ring, Hancock said.
Jerry Lewis Towns, of Havre de Grace, was charged earlier this month and released on his own recognizance, said Hancock. The teen-agers are in the custody of the state Juvenile Services Administration, he said.
Noticing there was a bicycle theft problem in Ocean City earlier this year, police began to plug stolen bicycle reports into a computer to develop patterns and profiles.
The computer discovered that 115 stolen bicycles, usually worth $350 and more, had been stolen, Hancock said.
A five-member task force was formed to tackle the problem.
On July 19, a man who had reported his bicycle stolen noticed someone riding his bicycle in Ocean City, Hancock said, and told a patrol officer.
The rider was followed to an apartment building on 26th and Philadelphia streets, Hancock said. Apparently, he was already being investigated by the task force.
About 7:30 p.m., police followed the rider into the apartment and found seven stolen bicycles and bicycle parts, Hancock said. The rider and two other teen-agers already inside the apartment were arrested.
Towns was arrested the next day at an apartment building on 84th Street and Coastal Highway, where police found two more bicycles believed stolen, Hancock said.
Hancock said the least expensive bicycle would be sold for $65. The more costly models would be sold for more, he said, and an $1,100 bicycle could be had for $350.
Hancock said a member of the ring would drive two others to an area of Ocean City to search for likely targets. They would ride the stolen bicycles back to the apartments.
The thieves were armed with cutting devices to cut chain locks and other security devices, Hancock said.
Police aren't sure of the total number of bicycles that were stolen or how much money the ring netted, but they believe the nine bicycles that have been recovered are only the tip of the iceberg.
More arrests are expected, Hancock said.
He credited modern technology with the arrests.
"The computer played a significant part in it" by providing instant times and locations, Hancock said. Last year, the investigation would have been done by manpower, he said.
Stolen bicycles are a problem during the summer season, Hancock said, because most people are in the resort on vacation and take little precaution to protect their bicycles.
Police have identified the owners of some of the bikes stolen by the ring. On Aug. 3, bicycle-theft victims can come to the impound lot at the public works complex on 65th Street to claim their property with proper proof of ownership, Hancock said.