Bike theft crisis as police forced to focus on violent crime (+ video)

Thieves “have become brazen, greedy and lazy” says senior cop due to easy pickings

Bike thefts are rising as police forces divert resources to tackle violent crime, according to a report on Telegraph.co.uk which claims that just 1 in 50 cases are being solved, according to Home Office data, with one senior police officer saying that thieves “have become brazen, greedy and lazy” due to the slim chance of being caught.

The newspaper says that according to victims, even when suspects have been identified or there is CCTV footage or witness or DNA evidence, time-pressed officers are unable to investigate thefts.

Its report comes on a day when footage emerged on social media of a gang stealing several bikes, including a Brompton, that had been locked to railings in London Fields, Hackney.

The video, captured by staff from a nearby café, shows a masked thief using an angle grinder to threaten a member of the public who tried to intervene.

According to the Telegraph, gangs of criminals are finding that stealing bikes en masse is less risky than engaging in other pursuits such as dealing drugs, partly because some police forces have disbanded units dedicated to fighting bike theft.

It highlights the case of Cambridge A&E doctor Michael Brooks, whose bike was stolen from outside a pharmacy where he had locked it up by someone who was described as having arrived on a “tatty” BMX bike, which he left behind.

Dr Brooks supplied police with the BMX bike so they could try and find a DNA match, as well as the name and address of the suspected thief, which had been given to him by someone who witnessed the theft and knew the person.

But when he followed the case up with officers the following week, they told him they had closed the case.

“They had got a DNA match from the BMX but had not been round to interview the suspect,” he said.

Last year, he has two bikes stolen from Cambridge North railway station but despite the bike racks there being covered by CCTV was told by Cambridgeshire Constabulary and British Transport Police that due to limits of, respectively, four hours and 14 hours on the time they can review such footage they could not devote sufficient resources to investigate the theft.*

He asked Greater Anglia, which operates the station, if he could obtain a copy of the footage but was told they were unable to do so because it would breach GDPR rules, which consider CCTV footage to be personal information.

He said: “Cambridge's conviction rates are less than one per cent. At that rate, and at £200 per bike, it is a crime that pays well.

“I speak for a lot of cyclists who feel we are on our own. We don't dare take the law into our own hands, because you would be done for an offence against the person.”

Superintendent James Sutherland, of Cambridgeshire Constabulary said that due to budget cuts and focusing on violent crime, the force had been unable to prioritise bike theft, although he added that a new approach was being adopted.

“I made a decision before Christmas that this was not sustainable and there needed to be a correction,” he explained. “We are not going to eliminate bike crime, but just because you can't eliminate it doesn't mean you cannot get a grip on it.

“The loss of focus means cycle thieves have become brazen, greedy and lazy,” he added. “They are doing more of it and doing it more openly. That’s why we intend to get a grip on it.”

As we pointed out on road.cc in an article last year, railway stations remain hotspots for bike thefts, and particularly ones that are popular with commuters and are less busy during the day, enabling thieves to carry out their crime with minimal prospect of being disturbed.

> Great Britain's worst railway station for cycle theft named

A spokesperson from British Transport Police, which disbanded its specialist bike crime unit last year, told the Telegraph: “Unfortunately, bikes remain a popular target for opportunistic thieves. Officers will use all reasonable means at their disposal when investigating such crimes. This includes reviewing CCTV where reasonable and talking with witnesses.

“In order to allow officers to prioritise the most serious crimes, which pose the most risk to the public, they use a screening process when investigating low-level crime such as bike thefts.

“There has been a national rise in violent crime, and it is right that we prioritise the deployment of our officers based on this to keep people safe,” they added.

* Editor’s note: We are aware of cases in the past in which it has been pointed out to police that CCTV tapes do not need to be reviewed for their entire duration in order to identify the moment a bike was stolen, assuming it is clearly visible on the video.

If the bike was stolen in an eight-hour window, say, going to the four-hour point will show whether it was taken before or after that point.

Then, by going forward or backward on the video, as they case may be, in decreasing time intervals, the moment the theft took place can be ascertained in a matter of minutes, without having to watch the whole footage.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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