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Do the police take bike theft seriously?

| Informative, Justice

What follows is just my opinion based on two years of working to tackle bike theft and helping victims get their bikes back. It is not meant to be seen as an attack on any force and is simply a summary based on what I’ve learnt.

I want to say before I get started that there are some fantastic individuals in police forces who genuinely have the right idea. I’ve met officers that have dedicated themselves to reducing bike theft (in one case for the last 5 years of their career), the Met even have a dedicated taskforce who deal with bike crime although they are often over stretched in my personal experience. What I say below shouldn’t reflect on these individuals who are IMO overworked and under thanked, it is instead made to address policing in general.

So just why do I believe bike theft isn’t taken seriously?

Personal Experience

I started Stolen Bikes UK after my own bike was taken in a burglary, the responding officer (the one who searched my house with me, when I came home to my door broken in) could not have been nicer and more helpful.

The bike was stolen with a bright fluorescent large biking rucksack, so surely easy enough to spot on CCTV.  However under 48 hours later my case was closed by a detective, the reasoning? They asked the nearest local business if they have CCTV which they didn’t. I live in a city centre flat, yes the nearest business doesn’t have CCTV but every street is covered by CCTV due to my proximity to a prison, a young offender’s hostel and a major road. You’d of thought that unless criminals can magically fly away then extending the search to these CCTV points would of been worthwhile but what do I know.

It doesn’t end there that summer I spotted my bike for sale on Gumtree (using my FindThatBike site btw). I phoned my local force using 101 to be met with “Whats Gumtree” and a suggestion that I meet the seller, lacking any hefty friends I decided to phone them back and ask for a call back from a detective responsible for my specific case it took 48 hours to get a response.

In the meantime I’d found out about the Mets Cycle Taskforce as my bike was in London I decided to give them ago, they took 24 hours to respond and it took a couple of days before they could do anything about it. Unfortunately by then the bike was MIA and the seller not answering his phone.

Since running the site I’ve found out the above is commonly how bike theft is dealt with.

TL:DR Case closed without proper investigation, Response times cost me my bike

Other Peoples Experiences

So running the site it’s not uncommon for people to get in contact to tell me they’ve found there bike for sale and asking for advice on what to do next. Usually they are contacting me because they’ve talked to the police and either failed to get any response or the police have told them “it’s a private matter”.

So now we have a victim who can’t get the police to help them recover their property. The usually advice is to use a combination of badgering the investigating officer and also to use some trickery if time ticks on.

TL:DR Not uncommon for victims to have to badger or trick police into action

My work

During my work I discovered (to my horror) that police don’t currently share most stolen property reports (they do for mobile phones and cars). This to me suggests they don’t take theft seriously.

I’ve also been campaigning for the police to release stolen bike frame numbers to enable the public to check, whilst there are officers who like and indeed back the idea the response from some of the police community has appeared to be “why bother” with one individual telling me that bike crime wasn’t a priority and wasn’t worth the effort. It comes to the point now where I am having to force hands using recently passed freedom of information laws, this is far from ideal but unfortunately necessary.

TL:DR No national database of stolen bikes, Little drive to create one either

Investigation Rates

Investigation rates for bike crime are dire, 90% of thefts are screened out by officers believing they have very little chance of being solved.

This is often despite the victim having identified incriminating CCTV or having found the stolen bike for sale online, we wrote about the problem last year.

When we wrote the article I asked a small section of their userbase what sort of experience they had with police the response was almost all a universal negative, one response was even a detective constable who felt let down by his own force.

Tl:DR You have to be lucky to have a bike theft investigated


Some individuals (and teams) are doing some fantastic work especially when it comes to preventative measures but the facts above are in my opinion unacceptable and until they are addressed I don’t think anyone can say bike theft is a crime taken seriously when it comes down to a victims experience.

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3 Responses to “Do the police take bike theft seriously?”

  1. Philip Tomlinson on May 1, 2014 @ 8:05 am

    wow, 90%?! that is dire, although not surprising. I Experienced two incidents like this, the first was from when I built up my dream bike with the wages I had from my first ever job (spent £700+). 17 hours after putting the last bit on, I was riding my bike at a skatepark in gloucester when I was mugged for it.

    The police did turn up, to my surprise, and took some details. later on, a guy came to the skatepark and said he saw this guy riding a good looking bike around, that he knew wasn’t his, and described it to me, it was mine! He knew the thief from dating his sister, but hated the kid, so told me the guys name.

    I immediately phoned the police (this being about 2 hours tops after the robbery) and told them the thief’s full name, and thought that would be the deciding factor. I even found the guy on bebo.com and confirmed it was him.

    6 weeks down the line I get a phone call “Hi Philip this is ******* from Gloucester police, you said you know the guys name, what was it again?”

    Great, this could have been sorted the same day.
    I tell them, with low hopes. then 2 months later, they phone me again, stating they’ve phoned him up and he denies ever stealing anything. what would I Like to do now…

    The second instance is actually with this page, where badgering might be the way forward! I spotted a stolen bike opposite where I work, it is there every day and the theif just sits on it and bounces on the suspension whilst he tries to sell drugs. he’s there without fail! I got in touch with the owner, and with the police myself, and so did he. I contacted him every time I was at work, and the bike was there, and he contacted the police each time. nothing. I obviously don’t want to steal the bike back, since the last person I want to be on the bad side of is a drug dealer who I’m in plain sight of every day when I work, and the owner feels the same. It’s not safe! The worst thing is we phone the police almost every day saying this guy and his pals stand outside our venue selling drugs to our customers, we have them on CCTV. they stand in front of it!

    I’m not sure what we can do except become our own police force for bikes. it is a devastating crime. In south africa, the community tie up and burn any thieves since the police don’t make arrests, so a simple unofficial police force, tracking down and repossessing stolen bikes wouldn’t even be that extreme.

    anyway I’ve had my rant, great blog post, and great site. hopefully it’s reclaimed many a stolen bike, with many more to come.

  2. Sadly none of this surprises me at all, i’m only commenting out of my own incredulity, I’m not even sure I am angry at my own story, just utterly baffled how this kind of situation became acceptable.

    One of our bikes was stolen in the week, locked to a bike rack in our town centre, under a CCTV camera whilst left for 15 minutes.

    When my other half approached a policeman to explain, he was very helpful and knew exactly which bike it was and what had happened. it had all been observed on CCTV and he had been made aware as it was happening. They had watched the whole thing, the reason they didn’t take any action was because in their own words “they needed a victim”.

    It would appear the town centre is very well covered with CCTV as they managed to trace his movements to well over half a mile away. Which is all good to know and thoroughly comforting that the technology works but does make you question what it is there for.

  3. shocking stories there, why don’t the police respond to this. Sounds like a simple arrest, you have done all the donkey work, all they have got to do is turn up.

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