New figures obtained by car accessories and bicycle retailer Halfords show that more bikes are reported stolen to the Metropolitan Police each year than any other police force in the UK. No surprises there, but road.cc’s own analysis of the data shows that ignoring the unique case of the City of London, it’s Cambridgeshire that comes out as the bike crime capital of Britain in terms of reported theft by head of population.
Halfords obtained the data after making Freedom of Information Act requests to police forces throughout the UK, resulting in the following top ten police areas in terms of absolute numbers of recorded bike thefts.
Top 10 police forces for bike thefts in 2010 Police area Reported thefts Metropolitan Police 21,315 Thames Valley 6,060 Greater Manchester 5,185 Cambridgeshire 4,477 Avon and Somerset 3,895 West Midlands 3,222 Leicestershire 3,057 Lancashire 2,727 Sussex 2,668 Humberside 2,440
Given the fact that the Met’s beat covers a much larger population than any other police force in the UK, it’s no surprise it comes out top, but the presence of areas such as Thames Valley and Cambridgeshire reflects the higher bike use there particularly in the university cities of Oxford and Cambridge, and consequently often easy pickings for thieves.
The Halfords data is based on police responses covering either the 2010 calendar year, the 2009/10 financial year, or the 12 months ending February 2011.
In order to calculate the per capita rate of reported bike theft in each area, road.cc applied to the Halfords data Home Office statistics giving the size of population served by all the police forces in England and Wales (mid-year 2008, the latest available) plus additional sources for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The City of London, home to just 11,300 people but with thousands commuting there every day by bike to work in the Square Mile, came out as having by far the highest rates of reported bike theft in Britain, at 37 per 1,000 residents. However, with 423 bicycles reported stolen – a little over one a day – we suspect the true figure must be much higher.
Away from the City, it was Cambridgeshire that had the worst levels of reported bike crime, at more than double the level of any area other than Cleveland, in third place, and Leicestershire, in fourth. Obviously, the presence of the university in the county town and the fact it has Britain’s highest levels of cycling are a factor there, but that doesn’t apply for Cleveland or Leicestershire.
Have a look at the list below to see how your local area fares. Does it seem unusually high or low given your experience? And how confident would you be in your local police force getting your bike back for you if the worst came to the worst?
Police force Thefts Pop. (000) Thefts/1,000 pop. City of London 423 11 37.43 Cambridgeshire 4,477 770 5.81 Cleveland 1,924 559 3.44 Leicestershire 3,057 983 3.11 Met Police 21,315 7,657 2.78 Thames Valley 6,060 2,202 2.75 Humberside 2,440 915 2.67 Avon and Somerset 3,895 1,595 2.44 Lothian and Border 2,026 844 2.40 Dorset 1,703 711 2.40 North Yorkshire 1,885 788 2.39 Lincolnshire 1,639 696 2.36 Gloucestershire 1,355 586 2.31 Suffolk 1,504 711 2.12 Wiltshire 1,329 650 2.04 Grampian 1,054 520 2.03 Greater Manchester 5,185 2,580 2.01 Nottinghamshire 2,047 1,070 1.91 Lancashire 2,727 1,445 1.89 Sussex 2,668 1,554 1.72 Warwickshire 878 533 1.65 Norfolk Constabulary 1,394 847 1.65 Cheshire 1,635 1,003 1.63 Tayside 618 393 1.57 Bedfordshire 890 599 1.48 Herts Constabulary 1,604 1,084 1.48 South Wales 1,834 1,246 1.47 Northumbria 2,053 1,407 1.46 Central Scotland 393 273 1.44 Surrey 1,567 1,101 1.42 Northamptonshire 959 679 1.41 West Mercia 1,664 1,187 1.40 South Yorkshire 1,796 1,307 1.37 Essex 2,265 1,706 1.33 West Midlands 3,222 2,622 1.23 Derbyshire 1,205 1,001 1.20 Merseyside 1,607 1,350 1.19 Kent 1,908 1,655 1.15 Cumbria 549 496 1.11 West Yorkshire 2,312 2,207 1.05 Gwent 580 559 1.04 Staffordshire 1,066 1,066 1.00 Northern Constabulary 291 300 0.97 North Wales 656 678 0.97 Strathclyde 2,081 2,245 0.93 Durham 530 605 0.88 Hampshire 1,607 1,857 0.87 Dumfries and Galloway 121 148 0.82 Dyfed Powys 398 507 0.79 Devon and Cornwall 1,293 1,668 0.78 Northern Ireland 977 1,800 0.54 Fife 78 350 0.22
It should be borne in mind though that the data only relate to recorded bike theft, in other words those reported to police. Indeed, Halfords points out that with the latest figures from the British Crime Survey, which records people’s actual experience of theft and not just that reported to the authorities, suggesting more than half a million bikes are stolen in the UK each year, that means that four in five thefts go unreported.
Another factor may be the willingness of people to report the theft of bicycles to the police in the first place, although obviously if you have insurance you’d need to do so.
Those living in places where the police appear to give a low priority to bike crime may decide not to bother reporting a theft, while in areas such as Avon and Somerset where police initiatives to combat bike thieves feature in the local press, there may be more incentive to do so.
Halfords says that more than two thirds of bike theft happens in and around the home of the victim – again, that’s not always recorded in police statistics if it’s part of a bigger burglary – underlining the need to secure bicycles not just on the street but also once back home.
Paul Tomlinson from Halfords said: “The scale of the bike theft is quite staggering and it can be devastating when you have bought your dream bike only to have it stolen.
“It demonstrates the need for cyclists to take precautions. We recommend bolt-cutter proof locks, because heavy-duty locks are a much better deterrent, and bike marking for all cycles,” an important point since often police are unable to trace the owner of a stolen bike that has been recovered.
He continued: “It is clear that this is a nationwide problem and many initiatives are left to local forces. We urge customers to keep their bikes secure but we would like to see more co-ordination in tackling thefts once they have occurred.”
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.