A police force is using Secured By Design forensic ‘smart water’ to battle cycle thefts.
More than 77,000 bikes were stolen across the UK last year.
With the value of some brands running into thousands of pounds, bicycle theft has become lucrative for criminals.
Gwent Police in Wales decided to disrupt the gangs stealing the item and to arrest offenders, as well as seize and return the stolen assets.
The ‘We Don’t Buy Crime’ department at Gwent Police implemented the Newport Cycle Crime Reduction Partnership (NCCRP) in March 2021.
This had the support of Mark Cleland, British Transport Police Superintendent and Lead for Cycle Crime in the UK.
When comparing data eight months later, looking at statistics from November 2020 to November 2021, there had already been a 29% reduction in bicycle theft across Newport.
As part of the work of the We Don’t Buy Crime (WDBC) department, officers are supported by the use of a range of strategies and approaches to combat all acquisitive crime, which includes the work around bike theft.
One of the successfully implemented tactics is the use of ‘trap bikes’ to target offenders in theft hotspots, such as city centres and holiday parks.
Bikes are marked with the Secured by Design accredited forensic marking solution SmartWater, and are fitted with technology to assist officers in retrieving the police-owned bikes once they have been stolen.
Numerous successful deployments of the ‘trap bikes’ resulted in several offenders being arrested for bike thefts, and in one instance, 58 suspected stolen bikes were seized from a single address, with many returned to victims.
In June 2021, a pattern of offending was identified that involved a number of bikes being stolen from a camp site and caravan park in Newport.
Holiday-makers visiting the area were being targeted at the National Trust site and were having items such as bikes and camping equipment stolen overnight.
Investigations were completed by local Neighbourhood Policing Teams and response officers, but no suspects were identified due to the offender often wearing gloves and a mask during the thefts.
Traditional policing methods were unsuccessful, so a bid from the local Neighbourhood Policing Team was submitted to the WDBC department to look at covert techniques that could be deployed in the area.
Trap bikes identified an offender who was linked to an alleged drugs supply chain and later jailed. In total, over £3,500 worth of property was returned to victims who stated to police that they had given up all hope of ever receiving the items back.
As part of the collaborative approach to solving the theft issue at the locality, the Gwent Police Designing Out Crime Officer attended and completed a crime prevention assessment, which included recommendations to the owner on how to prevent further thefts.
The report also documents where their vulnerabilities are and how they can be overcome with tried and tested measures.
Forensic marking of the bikes allows them to be easily identified and returned to owners in the event of them being stolen.
All officers are equipped with dual purpose UV/LED torches as standard issue to enable immediate checks on people and property for forensic marking during person, vehicle and premises searches, as well as upgraded forensic marking detection facilities in custody.
Inspector Hannah Lawton, said: “Through ensuring a holistic approach to acquisitive crime, including bicycle theft, we are able to identify, target and convict those committing this type of crime within our communities, as well as protect those living within Gwent.
“Whilst often seen as low-level criminality, this type of theft can have a big impact on victims and often has links to wider criminality.
“Working with key stakeholders and community partners has enabled a collaborative approach to ensure the most effective way of targeting this type of criminality.”
British Transport Police Superintendent Mark Cleland, Lead for Cycle Crime in the UK, said: “Gwent Police’s ‘We Don’t Buy Crime’ approach is an excellent example as to how partnership working can really disrupt crime.
“Over the last 12 months, PI Hannah Lawton and her team have implemented a number of tactics that have led to reduced crime across the board, not just cycle crime, and I would encourage others to learn from this approach and look to implement in areas which have similar issues.”
Doug Skins, Secured by Design, added: “It is great to see Gwent Police’s We Don’t Buy Crime initiative having a positive impact on cycle crime in their community.
“Secured by Design is working towards improving cycle security measures and infrastructure with member companies and stakeholders. This is a fantastic example of working with partners and the community to reduce crime.”