It took thieves just 47 seconds to steal Rosie Wetherhill’s ebike from outside a Chinese takeaway.
Wetherhill, a 23-year-old bike courier from Leeds, had considered locking her bike to the railing when she went in to collect the order, but she knew the takeaway was fast. So she locked the back wheel with a D-lock instead. A mistake. As she saw her £1,300 ebike disappear around a corner, Wetherhill felt a sense of dread. “I knew I would probably never see that bike again,” she says. “Because I know how it is.” The bike wasn’t insured. She’d only had it for two months. She called 999, and told police that the bike was fitted with a tracking device, but it wasn’t working. They told her to call back if it started working again.
A few days later, an officer called. “He told me that if there was CCTV from the Chinese takeaway, then I would need to go and get that myself because the police were not going to do it for me,” says Wetherhill. “It was quite insulting.”
It's more than that, it's utterly appalling. Whet are they being paid to do, if not this?
“It’s a crime where there is no jeopardy for the perpetrators,” says Tom Parker, 35, a marketing worker from near Epsom. In July, Parker witnessed two teenagers stealing a bike outside a Surrey train station. “I ran at them, shouting,” Parker says. They threw the bike at him and disappeared. Parker called 999. “‘We can’t do anything,’” he recalls the handler telling him, advising him to take the bike home. “But then,” Parker told her, frustrated, “I’ve stolen it!”
I always thought they staffed the emergency lines with the dumbest recruits, and it seems I'm right...
Parker posted about the incident in a local Facebook group. The following morning, he rang Surrey police. “I said, ‘I have this bike. I don’t want it in my garage. I can’t be the guardian of it for ever.’” The police officer told him to keep posting on Facebook. “They said,” he remembers, “‘We can’t call it a crime, because no one has reported it.’ I said, ‘It is a crime! I saw it happening.’”
Is it laziness? Is it lack of care? Are they told to limit the number of crimes recorded?
Is it all three?
Just as he was beginning to despair, someone got in touch via Facebook. His bike had been stolen that evening – and he had reported it to the Metropolitan police. He shared his crime reference number with Parker and Parker reunited him with the bike. A few days later, Parker received an email from the police. He says it advised him that no one had reported the bike stolen. “I responded,” Parker says, “and said, ‘They did report it. Here’s the attachment. I consider the matter closed, because I gave the bike back!’”
Can we ever trust the crime figures, if they are collated like this? No wonder they keep repeating the mantra that 'crime is down'...
And when they do show a touch of concern, it's for the wrong people:
In Cambridge, police estimate that 70% of cycle crime is committed by people with substance abuse problems. “We have these chaotic, disastrous offenders,” says Tudor, “who tend to have heavy drug habits. They take bikes opportunistically. They sell them for a flat fee to informal handlers within local criminal networks, usually for about £50.” Tudor has interviewed these offenders. “They come across as quite vulnerable,” she says.
Funny, normal people would say that's how the victims of crime should be described.
These incidents have eroded public trust in the police even further. “We have these ideas of what the police are there for,” says Andy Higgins of policing thinktank The Police Foundation. “If something bad happens, the police are there for you. Or they should be.” In policing terms, bike theft is a high-volume, low-level crime. But that’s not how its victims experience it. “These things may be mundane and transactional from the police point of view,” says Higgins, “but they actually are not to many people.”
Indeed. And if they can't get the little stiff right, why trust them on larger stuff?
Police forces had their real-terms funding cut by 19% from 2010/2011 to 2018/2019. “People get very angry about the police and their shortcomings,” says Tudor. “But they are operating in a very limited sphere. They are constantly given political directives they have to adhere to. They have funding cuts. They have staffing cuts. It is an impossible task.”
Not when they can send so many police after the fact, no...