Cycle Crime Tasking Group – tackling the high rate of cycle theft in Cambridge

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 122.

In June this year the Cycling Campaign was invited by the Cambridgeshire Constabulary to join the Cycle Crime Tasking Group. The purpose of this group is to draw together a number of stakeholders to collaborate in tackling the problem of cycle theft in Cambridge. The Group includes representatives from various police departments, the British Transport Police, the city and county councils, cycling retailers and Cambridge University.

Approximately 20% of reported crime in Cambridge relates to cycle theft which equates to about 7 bikes reported stolen every day

Cycle crime is clearly a problem for residents and thus for the police. Approximately 20% of reported crime in Cambridge relates to cycle theft which equates to about 7 bikes reported stolen every day.

Losing a bicycle can be very disruptive to the bicycle owner. It can mean the loss of the sole means of transport and prevent someone from getting to school, university or work. It results in additional expenses of bus and taxi fares, extra car trips or the extra time cost of having to walk. There is also the cost of a new bicycle to consider. For some, a replacement bike may be too expensive and they may be prevented from cycling until they can afford a new one. Some may also be drawn to the lower prices of stolen bicycles thus contributing to the incentive for ongoing bicycle theft.

The Tasking Group has already made some progress. In addition to information-sharing, collaborative projects include

  • improving the communication between the Council and the Police to ensure frame numbers of abandoned bikes can be checked against those reported stolen
  • plans to develop of a set of ‘Secure by Design’ standards and rankings for cycle-parking facilities
  • cycle theft hotspot surveys to determine the suitability of facilities and the numbers of poorly locked bicycles
  • plans to have a CCTV binary-chop* workshop to improve the efficiency of CCTV review to increase the chances of identification and prosecution of thieves
  • support for British Transport Police’s ‘Operation Wiggins’ bicycle marking and lock giveaway for regular commuters
  • educational and promotional programs about personal responsibility to ensure owners lock bikes securely to prevent theft and record critical information such as frame numbers to help in the recovery of stolen property and prosecution of thefts.

The pilot bicycle parking survey at cycle theft hotspot Parkside Pools has shown that, while facilities may not meet the highest security standards, cyclists are also failing to protect their property. Of the 50 bicycles counted in this location, 40% were locked with poor quality locks that do little to deter thieves.

Another problem the police face is the lack of information provided when bicycles are reported stolen. Without information such as a frame number or even a photo of a bicycle it is extremely difficult for stolen property to be identified, proved stolen and returned to the owner. It is no surprise then that without this information the police will be reluctant to follow up on reports. (See police tip about storing your bike’s ID data given below.)

Ultimately there are three crucial elements required to reduce cycle theft in Cambridge:

  1. Personal responsibility: owners must use suitable locks and techniques to reduce the ease with which their bikes can be stolen. They must have the critical information needed to identify their bicycle as their own.
  2. Secure facilities: a good lock is pointless if there is nothing to lock it to. Good lighting, CCTV and regular traffic will also make it harder to steal bikes.
  3. Effective policing: when armed with the right information and detailed police reports, the police will have a better chance to follow up on cycle theft crimes. The Campaign offers its support and urges the police to do more to increase the use of CCTV and patrolling in cycle theft hotspots.

Here is our advice for bicycle owners:

  • ensure you have recent photos of your bike and accessories and ensure any distinguishing features are visible
  • record the bicycle frame number and keep it somewhere safe
  • use a strong and secure lock for your bike and ensure it passes through the frame. It is also worth considering using a cable to secure the wheels.
  • You can read more about keeping your bicycle safe on our website /resources/cycleparking/theft/

Roxanne De Beaux

* Binary-chop refers to the process whereby one approaches the desired solution, e.g. finding the moment of theft in some CCTV footage, by successively inspecting the mid-point and rejecting the failing half of the data and repeating that step.