So as part of my campaign I’ve been campaigning for the release of stolen bike frame numbers through the use of open data principles.
There are a few frequently asked questions so I thought I’d make a post to address them.
Don't the police have access to a national database of stolen bike police reports?
No such database exists not even for a police force, a stolen bike police report is logged onto a database that is only searched within that police forces area. This means that thieves can steal a bike from one county and moved to another county by the van load to essentially become untraceable.
Several people seem to be under the belief that BikeRegister, Immobilise, NMPR or various other registers offer such a database but this simply isn’t the case.
Not many cyclists record their frame number?
This is unfortunately true but my opinion is that by making a national database of stolen bike frame number available to both the public and the police, you show just how useful a frame number can be and bring the public’s awareness to its existence.
As the service becomes more popular, more people record their frame numbers, as more people do that the data quality improves, you can then rinse and repeat this process until a majority are recording frame numbers.
How people go about recording that frame number doesn’t exactly matter much but I am planning to release a service that will drastically change the market, with various new features that will either be free to use or near to cost price (in the case of ways to mark components).
Why not just a single national database?
The two options for a single national database are either
A publically run database (I.E via the PNC). This in my opinion would actually be a decent option and indeed what I originally started campaigning for. However after learning more I found that currently police forces don’t view bike theft as a priority and in the current climate are unlikely to invest significant amounts of time/money in a project like this. When you consider other attempts by government bodies to nationalise data it’s likely we’d also be looking at a sizable bill for the taxpayer and years of hick ups and delays.
A privately run database (I.E through someone like Immobilise), this is I think a terrible option it would lead to a monopoly and likely price gouging. A similar system currently runs with motor vehicle data with three providers getting data from the PNC for essentially nothing, they then charge what they want to other companies/individuals for the privilege of checking against this data. When you look at how much property registers seem to be charging for what amounts to a tamper proof sticker, I have no confidence that they wouldn’t charge for checks if they could get away with it.
Doesn’t Immobilise/NMPR or BikeRegister already do this?
No they don’t. Immobilise has managed to get some stolen bike data as a private agreement from a few forces (I’ve actually only managed to establish two) and BikeRegister doesn’t get any information about stolen bike reports from the police.
Okay what’s the solution?
I am personally campaigning for individual police forces to release frame numbers of stolen bikes, this allows developers (including myself) to create solutions that allows both the public and police to check if a bikes frame number matches one that is reported as stolen.
It won’t be the be all and end all to basic common sense steps you should taken when buying a used bike but it will be a major advantage and simply the process of checking a frame number drastically for both the police and the public.
The advantages when compared to a single national database solution are fairly clear. The police would not have to invest any large amounts of time or money into releasing this data and no one company would get a monopoly on the data.
I’ll be more than happy to answer any other questions, just ask in the comments below.