The Metropolitan Police have seen a dramatic rise in moped-enabled crime in recent years. They are responsible for tens of thousands of phone thefts and in some instances are now progressing to more serious and violent crime. Just last year the scooter gangs committed as many as 50,000 offences and the trend has been spreading to other parts of the country. On Wednesday I joined Operation Venice in the Metropolitan Police - the unit aimed at cracking down on this type of crime.
Here's 10 things I learnt while out on patrol:
1. The suspects are predominantly young men: moped-enabled crime has gone through the roof in the last few years and in North London the criminal profile is mainly young men, aged 16-24 snatching phones.
2. It's happening all the time: Nearly everyone carries a phone worth hundreds of pounds, so there are literally thousands of walking targets on the streets almost at any given time and the police are receiving reports of around 50 per day in just two London boroughs.
3. They're very good at it: they can zip through London's busiest streets at 80mph and snatch a phone out of someone's hand with incredible precision and if the phone isn't top-of-the-range they'll often just throw it on the ground, which kind of adds insult to injury.
4. It's risky for the police to pursue, but they can: The police can pursue but in the vast majority of cases it's going to be far too risky to do so - risky for other drivers, pedestrians, the police and the offender - and the riders know this. I believe guidance needs clarifying to ensure the police are protected if they've not driven dangerously and something goes wrong.
5. The police do have stingers: The police do have stingers and a range of other devices to catch the criminals outside of simply pursuing them but again, policies are pretty restrictive and need reviewing to respond to this type of crime.
6. The police need better technology & equipment: Alongside this we need better technology for the police, they're relying on outdated systems, radios with batteries that don't last the full shift and all response vehicles should be fitted with cameras.
7. Intelligence is crucial: I've been really impressed with the intel forces across the country have on offenders of this type; they know their names, addresses and the types of bikes they ride, they monitor them on social media, they know how they connect with other people in the area, the issue is getting them over the threshold to charge them.
8. The public have a big role to play: It's really important the public do take photos when it's safe to do so, phone in intelligence and keep on reporting incidents to the police. All moped-related crimes in the Metropolitan police have a marker, so they're properly recorded as such and feed in to relevant units.
9. We need to see major deterrents: This is an incredibly profitable crime which both offenders and victims think will simply happen with impunity; we need to see some relatively tough sentencing for these crimes, which have made residents fearful to walk down their own streets.
10. Manufacturers and insurers need to step up : the reason this issue has exploded is because bikes are so easy to steal, strip and sell on. We had exactly the same issue 20 or so years ago when cars were just as easy to steal. Many of the bikes involved are not very expensive but until they are harder to steal and insurers are stricter on using proper locks the issue is going to persist.
It sounds trite but every time I spend time with the police, it always strikes me how dedicated many officers are, even in the current climate faced with so much demand and such limited resources, they remain completely determined and committed to tackling really difficult issues. The last time I went out with South Yorkshire Police an officer had come off his bike the day before and injured himself so badly he was nil-by-mouth waiting for an operation but he still came into work to make sure the team was set up, properly briefed and good to go for that day. So many officers are so passionate about making their communities safer and that doesn't get recognised enough.
But most of all, I certainly won't be walking with my phone in my hand again and I'd advise readers to do the same!