From the archive: Working with the police to tackle cycle theft

This article was published in 2021, in Magazine 152.

Cycle theft reduction project comes to an end

An edited extract from the article in Newsletter 61 (August-September 2005)

In 2000, a bid for funding succeeded to try to tackle the more than 3,000 cycle thefts annually in Cambridge. Simon Nuttall was employed to co-ordinate the project until it finished in 2005. David Earl interviewed him about the project.

Your focus was on theft reduction and recovery, for example with more racks, the Park Street cycle park, cycle coding and so on. Do you think the police give enough priority to cycle crime, and is it taken as seriously as, for example, car crime?

No, I don’t think car crime is taken more seriously. The police don’t work like that: they target offenders rather than crimes and look for information which links offenders to the crime. Some people can become specialists in bike theft and establish a supply chain. What helps the police is hard evidence. People often don’t know what kind of bike they have, or even the colour, but if the police find a person with a bike they can recognise from the description then they can do something about it – which is why security coding helps. It’s difficult for the police to commit officers to focusing on cycle theft because, quite rightly, they will always prioritise crimes against the person before property. So the message has to be that cyclists have to do as much as they can to avoid being victims of crime.

Based on your experience in this job, what’s the best advice for individuals to keep their bikes safe?

Individuals need to buy locks which are most convenient to the user and least convenient to the thief. At the moment Cambridge people seem to do it the other way around. If it is more convenient you’re more likely to lock your bike. The most convenient are those always attached to the bike. Toughened steel and independently tested locks are least convenient for the thief.

Is there a place for a continued project of this kind, or has it run its course?

The police need data to help catch thieves so a technology based project might help. Consider a reliable reporting system via the Internet that bike shops could use to check potentially stolen bikes against. My experience tells me that bikes will always be vulnerable and local authorities and planners especially need to be a lot clearer in what they mean by secure cycle parking, and to be a lot more generous in providing it, especially in places like Cambridge, if cycle theft is to be reduced significantly.

Simon Nuttall (as a volunteer) working with the police in 2009 promoting measures to prevent cycle theft.