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.