This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 122.
Theft of pedal cycles accounts for approximately 20% of reported crime within Cambridge city and in reality is probably higher than this, as it is seen as a low level crime by many who don’t bother to report it.
There are a number of factors affecting the investigation of a theft of cycle within the city and reported to Cambridgeshire Police.
The first is that often the description given of some stolen cycles is very generic, ‘my blue mountain bike’, descriptions of unique identifying marks are often ‘a mark on the frame’, very rarely do people know their make, model and frame number. Even fewer spend a few pounds extra to put a unique mark on their bike using one of the many security products on the market.
Given the popularity of online trading sites such as eBay and Gumtree, victims who check regularly are likely to see many bikes matching their own stolen cycle. They may even identify one as their own due to what they perceive as its specific peculiarities or the rarity of the make or model.
Unfortunately without specific details such as frame numbers or unique security markings, the police are unlikely to be able to prove ownership of the bike.
The second myth is that surrounding CCTV. This is a valuable tool in crime investigation and can, if used appropriately, be effective in both deterring crime and identifying offenders. It is something which can be considered; however, we do need to weigh up the time spent against the results we get from this investment. Historically the quality of CCTV images has proved very low and often not of adequate quality to identify a suspect.
Victims understandably believe that it will provide evidence identifying the person who stole their bike. The reality however is that it merely shows images of the suspect in poor lighting, at a distance or having obscured their facial features by wearing a cap or hoody, thus making it impossible to identify the suspect.
Police in Cambridge therefore look at each report in turn to assess the proportionality of such enquiries. Unless there is a named suspect, and/or the stolen bike is found being sold online or elsewhere, and there are positive identification criteria (such as a known frame number or security marking) or there being a known good-quality CCTV camera near to the theft site, the crime will not be investigated further.
This does not mean we are doing nothing, the savings made from this approach will allow us to invest in proactive police work and hotspot patrolling, which has proved far more effective than individual investigations.
We will be running campaigns to encourage cyclists to invest in good locks, security kits and at the very least make a note of their cycle frame number. Take photos on your mobile of your cycle – this can help identify it should the worst happen.
Individually, we can take measures to protect our bikes: as a dedicated cyclist myself, who has invested my own money into a bicycle, it seems sensible to me to make the further investment in a good quality lock, investigate the possible option of a security marking kit and be aware of the location you leave your bike, not being lulled into a false scene of security by the apparent presence of CCTV.
Together we can make a much bigger impact on cycle theft by providing less opportunity for thieves and being more aware.
I know it may seem old hat but prevention definitely is better than cure! Log it, lock it or risk losing it!
PS 1112 Nick Ashton Jones, Crime Review Team Manager