Bike theft is real, and growing, with thieves getting more audacious by the day. By and large, if your bike was stolen, you report it only to police to get the crime number that the insurance company will ask for, and you know police will most probably have no further involvement.
Very occasionally, police catch a gang of bike thieves. As they do when making a large drugs bust, they’ll make a song and a dance about it, probably with at least some local press coverage, but make no mistake, like the big winner in a casino, that’s an event that happens seldom.
Also, no matter what the press release said, however great it is that a particular gang of thieves were caught, the reality is there are many who will step forward to take their place. The best police can do is slow the tide somewhat.
At this point, you may want to go on a rant of how unreliable police are, but before you do, let’s spend a little more time examining things first, shall we? Over the past 10 years, funding cuts to police meant that we’ve lost 20 000 coppers. That’s a phenomenal amount of cops to lose, and as anyone with more than 3 functioning brain cells will be able to see, that could only ever benefit the criminals.
Imagine for a moment you’re a cop. Already you’re working long hours, often with unpaid overtime, and you’re constantly pressured to do more. Suddenly, two reports land in your lap: the first is of a high-end road bike having been stolen from a wooden shed, while the other is of a gang-related stabbing – which one would you prioritise? Which one would senior cops expect you to focus on? Which one will the media rant about? It’s obvious which report you’d prioritise, and equally obvious that you simply don’t have the resources to investigate both. After all, the one report is about an object, while the other is about a human life. Life is always more important.
Ever seen one of those press releases police put out when they found a bunch of stolen bikes? Typically, they’ll contain photos of some of the bikes. It’s important to realise many (most?) stolen bikes are disassembled, and sold on as parts, meaning it’s be far harder for you to spot your stolen bike.
Let’s look at some basic steps you can take to give police at least a fighting chance of returning your bike to you, on the off chance that they actually find it. Of course, an even better strategy is steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your bike being stolen to begin with, but that’s a different story.
Almost all bikes have a unique frame serial number. Do you know what the number is for your bike? Do you have decent photos of the bike, including the serial number? No? Well, that’s your starting point. I’ll stick the kettle on, while you go take those pics right now. Yes, now, else you’ll forget.
Back? Good. Next, go to BikeRegister, and enter the details of your bike(s). It’s free, and BikeRegister is used by all UK police forces. In fact, they have an app, installed on many police devices, that allows police to check a bike’s details against the register.
Of course, the catch is simply this: if your bike’s not on the register, even if police found it, they can’t return it to you. In such cases, in likelihood it’ll be sold for next to nothing at a police auction. Just because you couldn’t be bothered to register your bike. In such a case, that’s not a police failure – it’s your failure, so go register your bike(s).
No, it’s not a guarantee that your stolen bike will be returned to you, but it really boosts the chances of that happening.
Finally – and this is important – you simply must check a bike’s details against the register before buying it, and you must update the register if you sell a bike.
The first option is critical! Bike theft is thriving, because there’s a market. That market exists because people are prepared to buy dodgy bikes from out-of-breath salesmen, in the middle of the night, so to speak. By refusing to buy a bike before checking the register, you will help reduce the market for stolen bikes. Once the demand is longer there (as what happened with car stereos) the crime levels will fall.
The second option is also extremely important, because unless you unregister a bike you sold, the buyer will struggle to register it. Don’t be that person!
Finally, if you’re on Twitter, do yourself a favour, and follow BikeRegister – they regularly tweet photos of stolen bikes, so do keep an eye open for those.