Police in Suffolk have been criticised after plans were revealed to give stolen bikes to criminals for free, with one local cyclist describing it as “an insult to the victims of crime.”
Suffolk Constabulary have defended the scheme, however, saying that it will help former offenders go out and look for work. The initiative will first be trialled in Ipswich ahead of a potential rollout to the rest of the county.
Currently, the Police Property Act allows any lost or stolen bicycles that have not been claimed by their owners to be auctioned off, but under the new plan, bikes will instead be put aside for offenders with Norfolk and Suffolk Probation Trust making applications on behalf of them.
Applications will reportedly be looked at on a case-by-case basis, with the bicycles only given to what are termed “prolific and other priority offenders” (PPOs) who would benefit from a bike. Should it turn out that the a bike can subsequently be traced back to its lawful owner, it will be returned to them.
Cyclist Dave Brady from Bury St Edmunds, who keeps his £3,000 mountain bike in his living room following a number of recent thefts in the area, told the East Anglian Daily Times that the initiative was “an insult to the victims of crime.”
Mr Brady, who works as a design engineer, added: “It is ridiculous. These offenders should not be rewarded and subsidised by the innocent people who have lost possessions and probably never even had compensation.”
He continued: “I can understand their motive, but why should those who chose to lead a life of crime get any extra help. Give them a pair of trainers and they can walk.”
Fiona McEvoy of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, claimed that the initiative could actually encourage thieves to steal bicycles, telling the newspaper: .”This absurd scheme just legitimises the initial bike theft, with offenders benefiting directly from crime.”
She added: “In some cases, Suffolk police could even be handing the bike back to the very person who stole it, which isn’t much of a deterrent to would-be thieves. The victims of bike crime will be astonished and it looks as though the police are making a rod for their own back.”
The initiative was dreamt up by Detective Inspector Richard Crabtree from Ipswich CID, who stressed that the bicycles were not free gifts, and that not every offender would benefit from the scheme.
‘’This is a well-intended scheme and an holistic approach to assist individuals –who, for whatever reason, have been on the wrong side of the law – gain meaningful employment,” he insisted.
“This initiative allows us to work with and support our partners in the probation service to try to break the cycle of repeat offending.”
He underlined that only offenders who had demonstrated that they were fully prepared to work alongside the police and probation services to mend their ways would be considered for the scheme, saying: “We want to provide a way of encouraging offenders to gain employment, taking them away from their criminal lifestyles and encouraging them to positively contribute towards society.”
Victoria Woods, senior probation officer for the Norfolk and Suffolk Probation Trust, also stressed the perceived benefits of the initiative, saying: “Finding employment can have a positive influence on people seeking to address their offending behaviour.”
She added: “Often the lack of independent transport prevents some people from securing permanent positions. This scheme will hopefully address this shortfall.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.