Spending the day with the cycle task force of the Met Police

We’ve spotted two males cycling on the pavement. P.C. Johnston makes a quick turn and is off his bike questioning the one. Within seconds he has the bike turned over and is doing a frame check. Often a thief will scratch off the frame number. Luckily, this time it’s still there. The two males look nervous. P.C. Johnston has a feeling the bike is stolen. He asks if either of them have a previous criminal record. One answers yes. The frame number check comes back with no matches. If the bike is stolen then because the owner hasn’t registered it there’s nothing P.C. Johnston can do. He takes a description of the bike and let’s the two off without a fine.

He turns to me and tells me “Registering your bike makes all the difference”. I promise him I’ll pass it on to London Cyclist readers.

P.C. Johnson loves his job in the cycle unit. He tells me he has 8 bikes and spent 3 years cycling around the world. He also tells me he has never had a bike stolen and that he locks it with an Abus Granit lock.

Bike theft is the main priority for this unit. Of course cycling around London is only part of their role. They are also running covert operations targeting sites such as Gumtree and using methods such as decoy bikes. This was the part I was most interested in but it’s also the part they are least able to disclose any information on.

I press the officers for some more tips as to how someone can keep their bike safe. They told me the old tactic of using two bike locks is the best. Then, making sure a bike is security tagged also helps. Anecdotal evidence suggests that bike thieves are now checking for registration markings when picking their target. The small sticker that informs people the bike is security tagged can be enough to put them off.

The officers also had a stern warning for anyone buying a second hand bike. If you are stopped and the bike is found to be stolen then you are technically handling stolen goods. They advice people that if they are buying off a second hand site such as Gumtree to insist the seller brings some form of ID, you meet at their house and you try to judge whether the bike they are selling is something they themselves would ride.

Policing on bikes gives the officers a lot of speed and flexibility. It also provides a very visual presence that can be reassuring for the everyone around. The approach of information, policing low level crime and targeting gangs through undercover operations should help bring down London’s bike theft.

To get your bike security tagged either head along to one of their sessions or use a free site such as Immobilise or Bike Revolution. I know for certain the Immobilise database links into the police computers.

Cycle Task Force

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20 Responses to Spending the day with the cycle task force of the Met Police

  1. Howard 05/07/2010 at 12:55 pm #

    Good write-up. A link to where to register your bike with the police would make it better 🙂

    • Samuel 05/07/2010 at 12:58 pm #

      Good article, thanks a lot.. Just after reading that I though I would start register my bike but I don’t know which number is the unique number.

      Anybody knows where is the unique number on a btwin bike ?


      • Andreas 05/07/2010 at 1:26 pm #

        @Samuel – the unique number is one underneath the frame. Something along the lines of F564HSCO…. that’s the start of my one.

        • Samuel 06/07/2010 at 10:13 am #

          @Andreas thanks a lot… It seems that I have this information underneath my bike (which is provided by decathlon on a small business card as well) :


    • Andreas 05/07/2010 at 1:25 pm #

      http://www.immobilise.com/ – to register with police. You can submit pictures as well as various identifying mark.

  2. Mr. J 05/07/2010 at 2:55 pm #

    I think it’s great that London takes cycle theft seriously.

    In Toronto cycle theft wasn’t taken seriously, with a number of known thieves operating for years at a time. It’s seen as a children’s dispute rather than real crime.

    That stopped when a sting caught Igor Kenk with THOUSANDS of bikes stockpiled all over the city, along with stolen building materials and illicit drugs. It made front page news on the New York Times:
    “In a Cyclist-Friendly City, a Black Hole for Bikes ” http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/22/world/americas/22canada.html

  3. Mitsku 07/07/2010 at 8:48 am #

    Is there a link where I can find out when and where the police hold their sessions?


  4. Briand 08/07/2010 at 9:48 am #

    Hi Mitsku,
    You can find where police mark bikes by going to http://www.met.police.uk/saferneighbourhoods/about.htm, type in your post code and it’ll pull up a page specific to that area and list where the police are offering to mark bikes. Or…you can come out to BikeRadar Live at Brands Hatch this weekend and get your bike registered and marked there for free by BikeRevolution.org. The link is http://www.bikeradar.com to get info on the event.

  5. nm4471a 09/07/2010 at 12:33 pm #

    sounds like pc johnston/johnson thinks he’s judge dread. cos he has ‘a feeling’ he gets to hassle two – i’m guessing here – kids? were they white – the two males this heroic officer stopped? catch some proper baddies and stop piddling about with kids riding on the pavement.

  6. Phil Russell 09/07/2010 at 2:39 pm #

    nm4471a is wrong, and clearly prejudiced….. PC Johnson didn’t mention “kiddies”—-these were two males riding on the pavement. Brave enough to force pedestrians to get out of their way, but not brave enough to ride where they should be—–on the road. These people are anti-social, dangerous, and they give all cyclists a bad name. Grow up!

    • nm4471a 09/07/2010 at 2:48 pm #

      clearly prejudiced? explain please. i’m not saying they should have been on the pavement – they should be on the road, but it’s hardly a police matter. i’m saying coppers should have better things to do than mess around with people on bikes. i had two of the divvies chase me in greenwich park, along with a cpso, for cycling along the footpath – at about 5mph. as i said to them ‘you’re making a real difference’.
      if these people weren’t kids then fair enough but the image i have of police officers stopping people, and maybe this is cos i live in lewisham, is that it’s generally young black lads getting it.

  7. hoobah 09/07/2010 at 4:43 pm #


    Pedestrians don’t like people cycling on the pavement, and It’s against the law. The Police are there to enforce the law. Do you see?

  8. treelinedblossom 12/07/2010 at 2:40 pm #

    nm4471a…Maybe you should stop and think about your comments. I personally think they are wrong. Police will only stop people for who are/have/about to commit offences, not because of the colour of there skin. Change the record. Are you that blinkered?
    Bike theft is a massive problem in London and i for one appreciate the effort that the police are making.

    • nm4471a 12/07/2010 at 4:05 pm #

      ‘Police will only stop people for who are/have/about to commit offences, not because of the colour of there skin.’

      ha ha ha ha! you win!

  9. Paul O'Brien 13/07/2010 at 12:53 pm #

    I really don’t think that you should be recommending anyone apart from those who meet Police standards! I’ve had really bad experiences with Immobilise, one thing they don’t tell you is that in order to be registered with them you MUST agree to them using your data for marketing. They are basically a marketing company who use ex-coppers to push this useless registration method and then sell on the data. They don’t have any industry standards.

    I’ve also got Decathlon’s pack from Canada Waters have a proper pack that carries a badge saying police preferred standards, it’s really good, lots of security labels and some UV fluid meaning it’s marked for good – and I’ve got no marketing from them!

  10. OzBiker 23/07/2010 at 10:42 am #

    How does one contact the Police Cycle Taskforce? I’ve spotted a suspicious bike for sale on eBay – the seller has absolutely no idea what he is selling & has provided only a manufacturer’s stock photo. Not conclusive, but I think worthwhile such a taskforce taking a closer look.

  11. Pete Burgess 10/08/2010 at 2:34 pm #

    I’ve only been stopped by the police while driving once (because I was being dozy and it was christmas so they wanted to check I wasn’t drinking) and while they had me out the car they ran a check on the ownership & insurance details.
    I’d guess for the cycle task force once they stop someone for a cycling offence (riding on pavement), they probably routinely run a check to see if the bike is reported stolen. It only takes them a minute so why shouldn’t they?
    PC Johnston “having a feeling” the bike is stolen seems like either bravado in front of the press or journalistic licence. I bet he does the same for almost any stop whether he suspects thieving or not.

  12. Gary 11/08/2010 at 12:27 pm #

    Just a point of accuracy “I know for certain the Immobilise database links into the police computers.” No, it categorically does not. There is no database for bicycles on the Police National Computer, and private companies aren’t given a direct link, some such as CDL, HPI, Experian and Retainagroup receive data from the National Police Improvement Agency, such as the Lost and Stolen File. Immobilise does not meet any standards and does not receive data from the PNC.

    In fact, Police officers should to promote or advise people to use Immobilise as it fails to meet their own standards and is not recommended by the Association of Chief Police Officers. It doesn’t have the Loss Prevention Certification Board’s standards for a secure database and it consequently fails to meet the standard as set out by ACPO CPI Secured by Design for providing products that meet Police Preferred Specification.

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