It is time for police to take cycle theft in Cambridge seriously

Cycle theft in Cambridgeshire is rising and is estimated to cost victims more than £1.5 million per year.

Cycle theft has been a frustrating and at times devastating issue in Cambridge for many years. We’re hearing stories of individuals and even entire families having multiple bikes stolen, replaced and then stolen again, sometimes several times. Key workers have been stranded at night without any way to get home when they find their bike has disappeared, again. Even with insurance, it can become too costly to keep replacing bikes and after multiple thefts, insurance premiums can become more expensive than the bikes. There are many who eventually have to give up cycling altogether.

Evidence of cycle theft litters the Cambridge Station Cyclepoint.

We support advice from the police for individuals to do what they can to keep their property safe, but thieves are still making short work of expensive, top-quality and often multiple locks. How many locks must one purchase before the police are satisfied you have done your bit? What good are the best locks if the cycle stand you attach them to can be easily ripped apart by thieves, like those at the Cambridge Station Cyclepoint which is managed by Greater Anglia?

We’ve met with Cambridgeshire Police numerous times over the last decade and sat on several working groups intended to deal with cycle theft. But despite our efforts, we’ve yet to see the level of action required to properly tackle this issue. It is clear that cycle theft is not taken seriously by our local police. We’ve also met numerous times with Greater Anglia which has also failed to take any significant action to create a safe and secure environment at the station. They, and the police, have known since before the opening of the Cyclepoint that the stands they had installed were insecure. Calls back then for the security to be improved were dismissed as the CCTV would ensure the thieves were kept away. (We also wrote about cycle theft issues at Cambridge Station in our Autumn 2019 Camcycle magazine)

We continue to collect a significant number of stories of people reporting the theft of a cycle and receiving, almost immediately, an automated reply from the police citing the case closed due to a ‘lack of evidence’. It is clear that these reports are not being looked at to assess what evidence could be gathered. Many people have found their cycles, identified the thief, pointed out there is CCTV coverage and still cannot get a response from the police. The Stolen Bikes in Cambridge Facebook community is clearly identifying patterns that the police should be picking up. Cambridgeshire Police data shows cycle theft reports are down 55% on this time last year (May-Aug 2019 – May-Aug 2020) however, anecdotes and reports to Camcycle and on the Facebook group seem to be as frequent as ever. There are also numerous stories from people who have simply given up making reports to the police because nothing is ever done. A 2016 study by Stolen-bikes.co.uk found that 71% of cycle thefts are not reported. The Police must not rely on their data when assessing the scale of this problem and must be doing more to foster trust with the community and get reporting rates back up. The best way to do this is by investigating more cases of cycle theft.

Perhaps the reason cycle theft is not taken seriously is the perception of it being a ‘low-value’ and ‘low-impact’ crime. If you look at the estimated number of stolen bikes in Cambridge (including those that are not reported) the value of the property is huge. Conservative estimates suggest this could be well over £1.5 million pounds each year in Cambridgeshire alone*. Add to that the additional cost a person bears when their bike is stolen: the stress, the additional expenses, the taxi trips or bus fares and the loss of productivity as they cannot get to work on time or at all. We also have to consider what the proceeds of cycle theft are being used for. Is this easy income stream being used to fund other criminal and anti-social activities that the police will also need to deal with?

The government is calling for more of us to take up cycling to improve our health and keep our nation functioning as we emerge from a pandemic with limitations on public transport. To do so we must feel safe and secure when we are cycling on the roads and when we are parking our cycles. Cycle theft is a crime and it is having a terrible impact on our community. It must be taken seriously.

We will continue to meet with the council, police and owners of cycle parking facilities to push for change. Hopefully, the conversation will start to change at last.

 

*Thank you to a Camcycle member for this data and calculations:

  • In May 2020 there was a 46% increase in reported bike thefts (Admiral)
  • Another study (Stolen-bikes.co.uk, 2016) found that 71% of thefts aren’t reported, worse 25% gave up cycling and 66% cycled less as a result of bike-theft.
  • The three-year average in Cambridge is 7.5 reported bike-thefts a day. 7.5 being ~30% of total thefts, actual total ≈ 25 bike-thefts per day.
  • A 46% increase in stolen bikes equates to ~ 40 bike-thefts a day in Cambridge.
  • Less than 5% of bikes are recovered – which indicates that as much as 95% could be being sold on – that’s 38 stolen bikes a day from Cambridge are re-sold.
  • Per year this could mean:
    ~14,600 bikes stolen from Cambridge(shire) with only ~730 recovered
    ~13,870 stolen bikes being resold through Facebook, Gumtree, e-Bay, Shopck
  • At an estimated cost per bike of £100 this is costing individuals collectively ~£1.4million conservatively
  • Some bikes that are stolen are worth £1,000s so the figure is more accurately ~£2million from Cambridge(shire) alone.