A concerted effort by the police and Tower Hamlets Market in London has made a small dent in the intractable problem of bike theft in the capital.
Officers from the Metropolitan Police (MPS) Cycle Task Force unit successfully returned 12 stolen bicycles to their owners, made 12 arrests and gathered valuable intelligence on bike thieves, as part of an operation that targeted both cycle thefts and the sale of stolen bikes.
Operation Helium was a joint operation between the MPS Safer Transport Command (STC) funded by Transport for London (TfL), Tower Hamlets local police and Tower Hamlets Market Services, and was set up to tackle cycle theft and the sale of stolen bikes in Brick Lane Market. It began in late September 2010, and involved officers conducting intelligence-lead patrols after Brick Lane was identified as a hotspot for cycle-related offences.
Londoners have said that fear of theft can stop them from cycling all together. As part of the Mayor's Cycling Revolution, which is taking place across the capital, the Mayor and Transport for London have worked closely with the police to drive down theft and make cycling safer and more secure.
The Mayor also launched the MPS Cycle Task Force in June this year with 30 officers who specialise in cycle-related crime.
Every Sunday for the past four months officers gathered intelligence on suspected cycle theft-related cases, conducted high-visibility patrols and advised cyclists on issues such as security, safety and how to protectively mark their bikes.
Officers returned 12 bikes to their owners as they had been reported stolen to the police, with a total of 12 arrests made as a direct result of the operation. The Cycle Task Force worked with officers from the Whitechapel Town Centre team, who have also been working with Tower Hamlets Market Inspectors to tackle illegal street trading.
The Cycle Task Force officers were supported by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets CCTV Control Centre throughout the operation that enabled them to track suspects through the busy market area and lead officers to any suspected thefts of cycles.
During one of the Sunday operations, officers arrested 41 year old Leroy Spencer, who stole the wheels from a bike parked and locked to a rack on Bethnal Green Road. The owner returned to the bike to find them missing and approached officers, who were patrolling in Sclater Street as part of Operation Helium.
Details of the incident were circulated via the police radio and an officer who was working in the Tower Hamlets CCTV Control Centre spotted Spencer holding bicycle wheels in Brick Lane market. Officers located Spencer and the victim’s wheels nearby and arrested him. He appeared at court charged with theft and was jailed for two weeks after pleading guilty.
Since its launch in June this year, the MPS Cycle Task Force has already cycle security marked over 10,000 bikes and made over 100 arrests.
Kulveer Ranger, Mayor's transport advisor, said: "The Mayor is determined to make cycling safer and more accessible to all Londoners and we know that theft is a major worry for cyclists. This initiative is a key part of the Mayor's cycling revolution and it is good to see it producing real results and tackling those people continuing to prey on cyclists whilst, at the same time, reuniting owners with their much loved cycles."
Sergeant Titus Halliwell, Safer Transport Command Cycle Task Force, said: “I am so pleased to have been able to restore 12 bikes to their rightful owners as a result of Operation Helium, however this could have been many more. By reporting your bike if it is stolen, you are increasing your chances of having your bike returned to you if it is stolen.
“This operation highlights the benefits of our partnership work, not only with Tower Hamlets local police and council, but with all of the 32 London boroughs, allowing Londoners to enjoy cycling safely and free from the risk of theft or criminal damage.”
Steve Burton, TfL’s Director of Community Safety, Enforcement and Policing, said: “The success of Operation Helium shows that TfL, the Metropolitan Police and the Mayor take cycle theft seriously.
“The MPS Cycle Task Force has done a cracking job in tackling bike theft since it was launched back in September 2010 and will continue to do so as more people chose to cycle in London.
“We urge cyclists in London to help protect their bikes by parking their bike at a designated location, securely locking their bikes and ensuring that they are cycle security marked.”