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May 2, 2010 8:47 PM   Subscribe

How should I catch / educate / shame / communicate with an inveterate gum bandit?

There's a person who sanctimoniously defaces bikes that are locked on the street front with gum (stick spearmint by my... estimation). He started on my roommate more than a year and a half ago, sporadically at first (once every two weeks), eventually gumming her bike every night until she completely gave up on both the passive aggressive back and forth and her bike over the winter.

He started with putting gum on her handlebars until she undid the wrapping around them to make the gum removal easier, whereupon he started on the seat, escalating to smearing gum on her seat and even stuffing gum into the bike lock to make sure that she had to touch it.

We thought he/she had finished with this behavior, and even thought it was directed at her in some sort of a misogynist fit, but he's recently begun to do it to any bike that is parked outside the of the building including friends, and visitors bikes, during the day! We have hypothesized that he was sending a message about using the bike rack within in the building, (which is always full, and honestly a pain to access); but he isn't the street facade police, and should not be defacing others' property, message about public space or no.

We live in an apartment building in a residential neighborhood, and we fully believe that he either lives in or near the building. Most of the gumming has happened late at night, after 3AM even, but it has even started happening in the afternoon when I park my bike to run in for a quick bite in the afternoon.

So what is an appropriate response? Should we bother catching / shaming him? Multiple friends are game, and current suggestions include having a party in the apartment, to stay up late with watchers set on find the guy (we have a direct sightline of the entire street), Set up a wireless flash system / zoom lens combo to get a good shot of his/her face. Set up on the street with a "public bike gummer party": have friends come hang out in couches outside with our bikes everywhere. Most of us are graduating but at this point, but let's be honest: it's the principle.
posted by stratastar to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 47 users marked this as a favorite
Call the cops. I'm not sure where you are, but where I am that's called Criminal Mischief, and it's a crime. I'm betting there's a similar law for where you are. It's not okay to mess with other people's property like that.
posted by Menthol at 8:57 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a big fan of spikelee... i must agree with what he says. shame him like that raw food subway masturbator or something. Make fliers with his/her picture. Dedicate a website, tell your building management or his/hers. Do anything in your power to make this asshat know that what they are doing is not cool.

Actually, scratch all the above. tie them down and cover their face in chewed gum.
posted by djduckie at 9:00 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I'd get photographic evidence of the person doing it, make sure they were aware of this fact immediately, and then egg/rotten fruit/stale beer/canola oil/Kool Aid the shit out of them. This may be less than ideal from a legal perspective, but I would feel comfortable banking on the fact that the mad gummer has a big incentive not to go to the police.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 9:04 PM on May 2, 2010

Love the shaming ideas, but all you know about this person at this point is that he's persistent and mean. This could turn into a much larger problem if you retaliate.

It is indeed criminal mischief. I would call the cops to see what kind of evidence/ documentation they would need to bring action against this guy.
posted by Iggley at 9:10 PM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

(Note, involving the cops may still be seen as retaliation but at least you have law enforcement on your side if he actually gets serious.)
posted by Iggley at 9:11 PM on May 2, 2010

Unless you live Mayberry the cops won't give a shit. My preference would be to stake it out and then hit the person in the kneecap with a baseball bat. And then I would be in jail. A good compromise would be the stake out and then publicly humiliate the person. Follow s/he back home and then stand outside the next day with giant signs proclaiming that the gum bandit in question has syphilis.
posted by nestor_makhno at 9:18 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I vote for the stake out. And some of these will be needed too (from current FPP). And Take lots of pictures, you should get them doing it at least twice.

Then I think plaster their hair and face with gum and march them through the quad or student union or wherever. (but once that is done I'd give them a jar of peanut butter so they could get the gum out.)

However, once you have the evidence, going to the police (especially if it's campus police), might be saner. They would just scold the culprit probably but once he knows he is known he would probably stop.
posted by Some1 at 9:21 PM on May 2, 2010

Unless you live Mayberry the cops won't give a shit.

Well, to be fair, cops dislike investigating low level crimes with no leads. However, if you can hand them the name of the guy, where he lives, and a picture of him doing it, it's just one quick interview with the guy and boom-- free stat for the cop; they will never not be interested in someone handing them a solved case.
posted by Menthol at 9:27 PM on May 2, 2010

Response by poster: A couple responses: 1) We're graduate students and don't live in or near campus. 2) I don't believe the cops give a crap. 3) Let's say we do a stake-out, what are some ideas about the technical how of catching him.

Matching Lycra suits are obviously a given.
posted by stratastar at 9:28 PM on May 2, 2010

Catch the perp on tape, then go to the police station and file a report.

Continue to catch the perp on tape. Submit assembled footage to local news.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:35 PM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Stakeout time. Get people to man a camera in shifts. Don't stop until you get this jerk on camera doing his thing.

After you have the photographic evidence, get everyone to shout at him, etc. Get him to turn straight to the camera for a full-face portrait. Bonus points for swarming him with paparazzi at this point.

Then go to the cops with your jerk-portrait. Tell them that your small community of people is very interested in catching him, and that you have video proof of him doing this.

Hopefully, they'll be amused by your detective work, and the group pressure of several people wanting this guy caught will tempt them to be proactive about it.

If not - post his picture around.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:38 PM on May 2, 2010

I don't believe the cops give a crap.

I arrest people for doing this kind of stuff all the time, but if you want to handle it yourself that is up to you. Just be warned, if you take matters into your own hands and do anything to this guy in retaliation you are opening yourself up to being sued or arrested yourself, depending on the action. I'd at least call your local PD and see what they have to say.
posted by Menthol at 9:40 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I concur with spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints. If there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that you've got to fight terror with terror, broaden the theater of battle, and escalate the conflict to maximize pain so that you and your loved ones are never violated again. Not just by the gum bandit, but by any damn gum-chewer in your state.

To this day, I still will not engage in subcriminal mischief because of what happened to my friends and neighbors. We were young, dumb and full of fun, and were a gang of four. There were other neighborhood gangs, too, and our battlegrounds were neighborhood houses: which of us could trash houses the hardest?

We were pretty good at what we did: no permanent damage. Secret commando raids of the gas stations and convenience store bathrooms for toilet paper would ultimately culminate in a house covered in white, until we met THE ULTRAMARINE.

ULTRAMARINE lived across the street from my best friend. He enjoyed mowing the lawn half-naked. He'd do one-arm pushups on his freshly mowed lawn. He practiced knife fighting in his garage. He had no visitors or family, and as far as we could tell, no real military background.

Still, THE ULTRAMARINE was a natural target for all the kids. For us, because it represented the perfect target: so close to home as to be totally badass to trash, and so frightening because, well, the guy knew knife fighting. Other kids were drawing up their battle plans, too: this guy would be the ultimate mark of an awesome crew. Whoever made it snow on this guy's house in the middle of summer would have maximum respect.

We tried first. But ULTRAMARINE had motion-sensing lights. We tripped them, flipped out, and ran like hell to the escape point: far away, and away from my best friend's house, of course. Unfortunately, every single damn house had the motion-sensing lights in their backyard, so as we ran, we triggered light after light. For many, many houses. Every time a light was triggered, we tried to run harder and faster. I was sweating. I was crying. I pissed in my pants. I swear I could hear THE ULTRAMARINE behind us with his Rambo knife, tracking us with the ball compass built into the handle, snorting like a bull.

Anyway we escaped.

And finally, here's where you learn from ULTRAMARINE. ULTRAMARINE knew what was up. He knew he was a target. And after that night, ULTRAMARINE waited in the bushes in front of his house, with, I am sure, his knife clenched between his teeth. Night after night, he must've waited, for five days. In the bushes. Half-naked.

How do I know this? Because ULTRAMARINE caught my best friend's brother and his friend when they tried to fork his house on their own. He dragged them into his house. He made them call my best friend's parents and confess. He dragged them to my friend's house and asked for him, told him he knew that we came by five days prior, and that he was watching us. That he had been watching us. And that he would be waiting for us. I am not kidding.

So what do you do? Be ULTRAMARINE. Get half-naked. Stalked becomes stalker. Make food of your prey. You've got what my friend and I didn't have back then: the internet, cell phones, age and experience. Use them all to your advantage. Do not bust the gum bandit at the first opportunity: observe him and his habits. Keep a journal. Log entries. Let him become lazy and comfortable in his ways, and then converge upon him with all your friends, on bikes, and chase him down like the cretin that he is. Take pictures. Post them here. Especially the parts where you and your friends are half-naked. You will feel like a winner. No one in your town will fuck with you or your bikes ever again.

Incidentally, my friend's parents? Well, they were in on it. They actually narced on his brother that night and had made this whole plan up with ULTRAMARINE. Every parent in the neighborhood was getting tired of all their kids' antics, and they formed this strange, covert, anti-hoodlum league. We found out about this years later. Good luck.
posted by herrdoktor at 9:41 PM on May 2, 2010 [64 favorites]

it seems as if you have line of sight, then you would also have line of shot. :-) paintball gun comes to mind. of course you might want to think about the consequences for that sent some districts want to have serious charges for paintball assaults. in other words, don't get caught.
posted by chinabound at 9:46 PM on May 2, 2010

Collect some data about when he's most likely to do it (weeknights, Wednesdays, whatever) and set up a series of shifts to watch out for him at strategic times. If you can see him, you can probably figure out who he is even in dim light . Then, the next time you see him, you offer him gum.

Or, Motion sensitive light above the bike.

Or, You might file a police report if you can figure out who he is, or even if you haven't. I don't think they can refuse to take a report from you--they won't do anything, you know that, but you can probably still file the paperwork, get a copy, and tape it to the pole the bike is locked to.

Or, Leave a pack of gum on the seat.

Or, leave a note saying "please don't leave gum on my seat" although depending what kind of town you live in that could just be an invitation.

Or, get an old bike, have an ole fashion' gum chewing party, cover it with gum, and just leave it out there as a warning to other gum.

Or, okay, you catch him in the act and then one of you comes out wearing a sheet and chains and you say you're the ghost of past gum, come to warn him about the future boooooooo.

I've got a little Ambien high going.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:49 PM on May 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Documentary evidence is your best bet. Stakeouts, infrared cameras at night (someone you know has a camcorder with NightShot tech I'm sure)

DO NOT do anything stupid like attack him/her or rig a trap (electric shock, skin irritant, etc.) because that's criminal assault and opens you up to civil battery lawsuits as well. Physical violence is NEVER acceptable unless in self defense. If you attack the guy it would be premeditated, and that's just about the worst factor you can add in your arrest calculus. You come out the bad guy.

Want revenge? Get him on tape, and get him arrested. Pray he gets jail time with hypersexed 300-pounders. And then sue him for the damage he's caused if it's not ordered by the court. BE SURE TO PARTICIPATE AS A WITNESS IF IT GOES TO TRIAL. And if the prosecution asks for any assistance, give it to them unsparingly.
posted by holterbarbour at 10:08 PM on May 2, 2010

OK so my first comment was deleted. Sorry, Jessamyn. I hate making your job harder.

So, to reiterate: STAKEOUT STAKEOUT STAKEOUT. Document as much as you can, figure out where the perp lives, and (kicks gravel, stares at shoes) I guess let the cops figure it out.

/gives up on delusions of that opening scene in The Professional, wherein Jean Reno takes out a bajillion bad guys with like a knife and a shoelace. But forreals, if you could like maybe make a noose, and snare the gum bandit, and then just lift them off their feet for a couple of seconds, then let them drop to the ground, and like while they're catching their breath and realizing that, no, they didn't in fact just die, then you slither down from your perch in the trees, and you get nose to nose with them, your face covered black and olive drab, and you just stare, yeah, that thousand yard stare, and they know that they've seen the devil, and it is YOU, and holy shit they're never going to try this again if they can just get out of here alive, and holy fuck what are you doing with your right hand, coming at their face, slowly, slowly, and then HONK you squeeze their nose like Mr. Miyagi to that Cobra Kai dude in Karate Kid II.

and please, have another friend filming.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:09 PM on May 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

A couple responses: 1) We're graduate students and don't live in or near campus. 2) I don't believe the cops give a crap. 3) Let's say we do a stake-out, what are some ideas about the technical how of catching him.

Matching Lycra suits are obviously a given.

I'll give you technical.

- First, you need a map. Google maps is awesome. Aerial maps make everything look super official.
- Do not change your behavior. If target bikes are usually found over several locations, don't lock them up in the same place. Similarly, if they're usually locked up in the same place, keep them in the same place.
- As much as you can, for as long as you can stand, keep a journal of when your bike is gummed. Note location and date.
- Find good places to observe from. Far enough away to escape detection by sight or sound (or, god forbid, odor), but close enough to be able to see that the gum bandit got close enough to the bikes in question. Mark them on your map and label them with code phrases. Use words like "VICTORY" and "PANCAKE--" words which won't get mistaken for each other and are short enough to speak quickly.
- Mark a bug-out point and escape route, in case things get hairy. It should be in the exact opposite direction of any location that could be traced to you or your crew. Formulate a code word or phrase for bugging out via this route, eg: "ABANDON SHIT."
- Now, recruit. Bring a copy of your map, with the code phrases for locations blacked out and the actual locations circled broadly. You don't want any leaks, and you must watch out for double-crossing gum-lovers. Tell your recruits they will all get code names. It will entice and excite them, because everyone wants a code name.
- Make sure someone's code name is "THE MUSCLE" or "ULTRAMARINE." This should go to the biggest, baddest dude in your crew, or at least the guy who knows the most kung-fu. Also give someone the code name of "Noodles" or "Brain." This should be assigned to the dumbest person, or the person whom you like the least. This person will be the patsy should things go awry.
- Everyone should be paired up. No one works alone, for safety and for trust reasons.
- Everyone should have a bike. This is important. Noodles might not need a bike, though, because he is dumb.
- Buy some walkie-talkies. It'll be worth the cost, and your crew, should it be successful, will use them again when one its members finds him or herself in a time of need. Formulate a code word for attacking, eg: "EXECUTE."
- Refer to your journal. Identify days of the week the gum bandit consistently strikes. Schedule days in the coming weeks or months for your crew to practice.
- The first night should be a dry run, and an exercise in stealth, discipline and fortitude. Each pair at their location. Now, this part is important: the only words anyone's allowed to use include the LOCATION CODE, BUGOUT CODE, and ATTACK CODE. There must be radio silence otherwise. This first night, everyone must understand that there will be no attack, there will only be waiting until the time you broadcast your LOCATION CODE and BUGOUT CODE (thrice), eg: "PANCAKE, PANCAKE. ABANDONSHITABANDONSHITABANDONSHIT." Then everyone takes the escape route and meets up at the bugout point.
- If your crew has made it this far, congratulations. From here on out, it's time to stalk your prey. Everyone waits. First pair to see the gum bandit make a clear strike against your bicycle should broadcast their location code and attack code (thrice), eg: "VICTORY, VICTORY. EXECUTEEXECUTEEXECUTE."
- Now, everyone hops on their bikes and descends upon the gum bandit. Issue forth war cries. Yell out your location codes. Call upon your colleagues by their code names. Chase your prey down. You're faster than him. You outnumber him. You've got totally badass code names, and you're crazy.
- Once you surround the bandit, or he gives up, clearly state your reasons for chasing him down. Tell him you were watching him, that you have been watching him, and that you would be waiting for him in the future. Tell him to cease and desist, or ULTRAMARINE will find him and destroy him. Tell him you will give his photograph, along with your log, to the police if this happens again. Tell him to tell his friends and family. Then look at your crew, nod, and say something like: "GENTLEMEN. WELL DONE. LET US BUG OUT." And bug out.

One last note: do not dress up. Dress down. No camouflage. No black. Look casual. Because god help you if someone finds you and your crew, dressed in all black, with radios and a crazy plan involving some guy, chewing gum, and the internet.
posted by herrdoktor at 10:14 PM on May 2, 2010 [36 favorites]

Because I will be involved in the inevitable stakeout, I will contribute my suggestion. I say we get a decoy bike and chain it up to the fence. Then we park a car across the street with a camera in it so that no one has to sit staring out a window and potentially being seen by this asshat. I think with that plan it's just a matter of finding a cheap camera that will run all day from a car window without attracting attention, and trying to get around the low light issue since he's been doing this at night.

If we catch this dude we totally are posting pictures on Metafilter Projects.

Oh, and I am so Noodles.
posted by emilyd22222 at 10:28 PM on May 2, 2010

The problem with manning a camera is that it requires people, and people are obvious. I'd try some setup with a digital camera, IR lights and maybe a circuit like this which snaps a picture every few seconds. Difficulty: You need someone who can solder and a camera you're willing to open up or a more modern camera where you can plug a remote trigger in the side, but which does not have an IR filter. (You can test for that by having someone point a remote at you while holding down a button. If the picture looks like they're holding a flashlight, win!)

Still, if it's someone paying that closs of attention, you might have trouble setting this up without them seeing you.

The other suggestion I have involves a lawn sprinkler, a passive IR motion detector, a solinoid valve and a box of Rit dye, but the problem with that kind of system is it might get the unwary as well as the guilty.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:32 PM on May 2, 2010

If you have the perp's gum, you have the perp's DNA. Start there.
posted by The Potate at 10:35 PM on May 2, 2010

If you have the perp's gum, you have the perp's DNA. Start there.

Well, considering we don't have our own personal DNA lab, and crime labs won't even waste their time on freaking sexual assault victims, I kinda doubt they're going to go all CSI on the neighborhood gum bandit.
posted by emilyd22222 at 10:38 PM on May 2, 2010

well not with that attitude
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 10:56 PM on May 2, 2010 [13 favorites]

Well, considering we don't have our own personal DNA lab, and crime labs won't even waste their time on freaking sexual assault victims, I kinda doubt they're going to go all CSI on the neighborhood gum bandit.

You're right, but Perp probably doesn't know that industrious, resourceful graduate students such as yourselves don't have friends in that field. You might be able to mess with him/her based on that.
posted by The Potate at 11:24 PM on May 2, 2010

By my above comment, I mean, you guys are at least matching lycra suits committed to this, so I'm sure you have plenty of motivation and imagination to use such a fact to your advantage
posted by The Potate at 11:29 PM on May 2, 2010

I would purchase a motion activated spy-cam. Don't tell anyone that you have posted the camera, because it could easily be anyone.

This will give you the time and face of the perp. If you recognize them you can take appropriate action. If you don't, you should follow them and find out where they live. This will give you options if the police can't take care of it.

Also invest in some gum freeze spray
posted by psycho-alchemy at 11:52 PM on May 2, 2010

Seconding the motion-activated spy cam. When you catch the perp, check back with us!
posted by dunkadunc at 12:41 AM on May 3, 2010

Matching Lycra suits are obviously a given.

OMG please use these(links to FPP about something that may be NSFW) matching lycra suits for that extra freak out factor. Imagine being surrounded by a group of people all in full body multi-colored lycra suits saying "We've been watching you, and we're angry".
Also there are web cams that have software which makes them act as motion cams. You could set one of those up in your stakeout car attached to a laptop and just periodically recharge the battery in the laptop. Also I believe you can hack Canon firmware to cause them to act as motion detectors, so you might want to look in to that as another option.
posted by JackarypQQ at 12:57 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Here's a potentially useful Google search.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:30 AM on May 3, 2010

Use a decoy bike and cover it with some kind of non-obvious lubricant (BodyGlide, plain old talcum powder, mineral oil?) to make his gum-smearing efforts difficult or impossible. Imagine the hilarity when he's standing there flummoxed because he can't get the gum off his fingers and then The Lycra Superfriends magically appear...
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:09 AM on May 3, 2010

Best answer: stick spearmint by my... estimation

You tasted it, didn't you?
posted by MsMolly at 8:30 AM on May 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

stick spearmint by my... estimation

You tasted it, didn't you?

Or he's the inveterate gum bandit himself, and this post is all part of an elaborate ruse to make it seem like he is most definitely not the gum bandit.
posted by k8lin at 3:48 PM on May 3, 2010

this is the best thing i've read all day. i sympathize with the bikegummer. over 1.5 years and never caught? whoever they are, they must be a freaking ninja; perhaps you shouldn't mess with them.
posted by judge.mentok.the.mindtaker at 9:07 PM on May 3, 2010

Response by poster: Heh, I always assume its some sociopath with bad breath and harsh bike controlling tendencies.

Summer Project! I'll keep ya'all updated.
posted by stratastar at 8:56 AM on May 4, 2010

Oh you know what? You should post this to Jobs.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 7:51 PM on May 4, 2010

Please post back and tell us how it turns out.
posted by feelinggood at 7:57 PM on May 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow I'm late to the thread. Just wanted to say that it might be more than one person gumming, considering the fact that there have been off-schedule gummings. If you haven't already, factor that into your plans. Catching one guy and still finding gum on your bikes from his accomplice might make his denials seem more plausible.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:26 PM on May 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am going to be so bummed if you don't follow this up with video of the perp and of y'all subsequently going asspants on him.
posted by waldo at 6:51 PM on May 6, 2010

Add me to the list that has been waiting with baited breath to see what happens.
posted by Admira at 7:02 PM on May 8, 2010

Response by poster: We've created a blog to document our efforts to outgum the gummer. It's linked on MefiProjects.
posted by stratastar at 8:55 PM on June 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

Update: We got him!!
posted by emilyd22222 at 6:00 PM on July 12, 2010 [3 favorites]

Hee. That's awesome.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:53 AM on July 13, 2010

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