Islington police saddle up to chase phone-snatch thieves
Officers get foldable electric bikes in pilot project
29 November, 2019 — By Samantha Booth
Inspector Richard Berns with an electric, folding bike
POLICE are hopping on foldable electric bikes to try and clamp down on offenders on pedal cycles who are snatching mobile phones from victims in Islington.
Inspector Richard Berns said no other part of the Met Police is using electric bikes in this way and he hopes the pilot project will stem a rise in the “stealth” tactic before it escalates.
The work follows a crackdown on moped bandits who snatched valuables from pedestrians across Islington and Camden after a steep increase in recent years.
Inspector Berns said: “This is a problem. Over the summer it was definitely not going in the right direction, unlike moped-enabled crime. The fact is that we didn’t have a capable response for the cycle-enabled crime.”
Statistics show there has been a 19 per cent increase in all cycle-enabled crimes in the past year. Some offenders are as young as 11.
Insp Berns has previously told the Tribune how, unlike mopeds, cycles are quieter to use to steal from unsuspecting victims, with students and tourists being a target. The bikes are sometimes adapted to become electric bikes and some are derestricted so they can move faster.
“Some of these young criminals are very, very fast and do not hang around but we can’t really use the same tactics as we do with mopeds, for pushbikes,” he said.
“We can’t use tactical contact or stingers with a pushbike and it would be a bit over the top to track them with a helicopter. We needed something different.”
He added: “I racked my brains for something that might even the odds and that’s when I thought of electric bikes. The criminals are not scared to knock pedestrians over, they are quite happy to go on the pavements.
“We can’t copy that dangerous behaviour, we needed another edge, which hopefully the electric motor will bring. We are not all 17 and superfast, so we needed something else to give us an edge and even up the odds.”
Operation Blueflash – Inspector Berns says is a “total coincidence” that the Brompton bikes have a blue lightning bolt on them – will see officers targeting hotspots including around Angel. Arrests have already been made.
Asked what officers first thought of using the bikes, Inspector Berns said: “There were some mixed feelings from officers initially but once they had ridden them the feedback was very positive.
“They are surprisingly quick and most of the misgivings were more about the look of the bike, as it doesn’t look like a fast bike. As soon as you get on it and it’s off, they think this might actually work and I had a lot of officers wanting to use them again.
“If you do see anyone with an electric bike acting suspicious or maybe hiding it in a shed or a lock-up, then please call Crimestoppers and the local SNT will look into it.”
Crimestoppers can be reached on 0800 555 111 or crimestoppers-uk.org