A New Approach to Fighting Motorbike Theft with BBTA

How Bristol Bike Theft Awareness are changing the approach to motorcycle theft…

TV and news around Bristol have been full of reports of the BristolBikeTaker and Bristolstovecs Instagram accounts for some time. These gangs of youths, including some vulnerable children, steal motorcycles and mopeds of all sizes. They hunt down the owners on social media and then, after taunting the distressed victim, send them live or recorded footage of them destroying their pride and joy. In some cases they have bribed the owner, and then burnt it anyway regardless of the ransom demand being paid or not. In order to combat this we started a ‘Not in Your Name’ campaign on the website where we put out appeals on social media via our webpage on the owners behalf with no name attached. This prevents any distress to the owner.

The motorcycle community of Bristol is large, and fairly tight. Online groups and communities have been complaining of lack of Police action for quite some time. They would report a theft, get given a crime number to claim on their insurance and then be subsequently sent away – this isn’t just happening in Bristol, it’s becoming a growing issue in other areas of the country also.

With animosity for the Police and the thieves growing, and more violent repercussions being put forward, it was a worrying time. Although 90% were ‘keyboard warriors’, there was another 9% that were fully capable and willing to do something at any given time, and there will always be a 1% you’ll never hear about.

Independent Advisory Group and Operation Buell

A concerned motorcyclist and ex-Police officer approached Avon and Somerset Police to get some answers, divulging how bad the situation was and the idea he had to work together to tackle this epidemic. The initiative was welcomed, and the call was put out to form a new Independent Advisory Group as part of Operation Buell, ASP’s campaign to tackle motorcycle crime.

The IAG was formed of local motorcyclists, tech gurus, business owners and even a banker; all bringing unique skills to the table. They were tasked to liaise with the motorcycling community, and to hold Avon and Somerset Police to account for their actions.

At the first meeting, the Inspector held up his hands and apologised. He said they had failed the biking community, and didn’t realise it even existed. The Inspector admitted he was not a biker, and although he knew the front from the back wheel, that was about it. He may not be a biker – but the Inspector displayed the same passion as he would have had he been a biker, has done wonders and is a credit to the force.

Two years later…

The IAG will be coming up to its’ second year this year. It has achieved so much in such a short space of time. We meet monthly, more often if required in cases involving events or complex issues. We come up with solutions, make sure issues are dealt with promptly and so on. It gives the biking community a voice and seat right at the heart of Operation Buell, at the table, with the people in charge.

We liaised and had to instill into the biking communities heads that these kids, despite being thieves, were still kids….and if they took action, it would be far more serious for them than the youths involved. We tried to get over what implications it could have for their livelihoods. It wasn’t to make the offenders untouchable as they believed they were but to cut through the frustration and anger and get the community to OUTSMART these kids. To watch, record, pass on evidence and to support each other. They are only free to steal as long as nobody sees them or recognises them.

Take that away, and you have your solution right there.

“You like ride outs don’t you?”

Our first event was actually suggested by our non-biking Inspector. ‘You like ride outs don’t you? Let’s do one of those’….the members looked at each other wondering if he realised what he was saying but we all agreed – we’d do a ride out.

We were new to it all – at least organising one, the four of us sat there discussing dates – only ones in the rest of the riding season (that’s when our seasonal brothers and sisters go into hibernation) was in two weeks, so we had to move fast! Anyone organised an event before? No! Didn’t think so – we had to do what we could, the rest we would just wing it!

Off we went, and set up a Facebook group – Bristol Bike Theft Awareness Ride 2017. Got insurance sorted, arranged venues with two local motorcycle dealers; Dick Lovett’s Motorrad and Fowlers Motorcycles as start and end points. We planned a route through the trouble spots of Bristol to show solidarity to the residents that lived with the problems, to support victims and tell them they weren’t alone and raise awareness of the theft issues the biking community were facing.

We estimated 150-200 bikes would turn up with such short notice, on the night prior just over 230 confirmed they were coming. The local newspaper was always anti-biker and vehemently anti-police. They admitted they had to ‘make up’ a story as we had been unavailable to comment in the two hours they had allocated for us to respond. They posted articles stating that “Angry Bikers Vow To Bring Bristol To A Standstill In Protest’ insinuating disorder and the normal stereotypical tripe which threatened the whole ride at one point. Our relationship was fairly new with ASP at the time and they were cautious at the paper reporting disruption and protest. We assured ASP that it was not a protest and it would be a peaceful ride.

650 bikers rolled into a ride-out                                                      

We watched as 650 bikes rolled into the meeting point, Dick Lovett’s Motorrad Bristol. They came not just from the area, but from far and wide – Rochester, Wales, Wolverhampton, Cornwall, Dorset and the list went on. They all were suffering in their own towns and wanted to see what was happening here and to support Bristol Bikers. With only two weeks warning we only had TWO PCSO’S and TWO Police Outriders as everyone else were booked elsewhere. Local riding club, 4 Counties Bikers, offered support and took over the marshalling under the management of a very experienced friend of ours and they did a stunning job.

We were blown away with the response from the community with such short notice! The ride was a success; the participants were exemplary in their behaviour. We were joined by thieves who tried to disrupt the ride foolishly, as most riders had cameras. Images were submitted, thieves locked up.

It proved we could pull it off, and that the biking community were responsible. The communities thanked us for showing they were not alone, lined the streets and applauded us as we rumbled through. ASP realised we could be trusted and were sensible and opened up a little more. Bristol Bike Theft Awareness (BBTA) was now a known entity, run entirely by volunteers and funded by the volunteers personally, and ASP covering some also.

Motorcycle Crime Q&A event

In London, various protest groups are complaining that they write to MP’s and so on and don’t get a response. In fact a similar gripe was added by a group only a week or so ago and they had been campaigning for 7 years.

Meanwhile in Bristol we had an idea of getting the whole judiciary and throwing them in front of a group of bikers to do a ‘Question Time’ style event. Surely it would be suicidal, but could it be done? Our Inspector was keen, and willing to take the expected flack. He would help with the judiciary side of things. We launched the ‘Motorcycle Crime Q&A’ and held it at a local Sports Centre on a cold winters evening. The panellists included the Police and Crime Commissioner, Councillors, Police Inspector in charge of Buell, Police Chief Superintendent, Youth Sentencing Team and others.

Over 150 bikers, local businesses and TV media arrived. Again, they came from far and wide Redditch, Wiltshire, Wales and elsewhere. One even came from a neighbouring force to see and take back what he learned to his force. We had prepared a loosely based structure of questions to reduce repetition, it worked well, and then it came to open season – they were lively but respectful!

Game changer for bikers

It was a game changer – it not only proved well above our Inspectors’ senior ranks how bad the problem was, but outlined issues with 101 response, theft figures, misunderstanding of Criminal Behaviour Orders, sentencing guidelines and funding. It did incite the old gem ‘you have enough coppers to fine us for speeding, but not to find our bikes’ quote that you will hear far and wide. Its’ a valid point – did anyone ever get an answer to that? We did. And it is shockingly simple.

PCC Sue Mountstevens was posed that very question. She comes from a motorcycling family herself, so was as honest as any biker would expect by saying, ‘Speed Patrols and Cameras are placed because we get 1,000 complaints a week about speeding, and very few about bike crime. When the funding is dished out, it is a case of who shouts loudest. You need to ensure your voice is heard and after tonight I will make sure it is’.

A case of ‘who can shout the loudest’

She vowed to ensure funding was increased and that she would back any campaign we put forward relating to the issue. On sentencing, she explained as an ex-magistrate herself, they are tied to guidelines. If she steps outside these guidelines, there is a great likelihood that the case will be appealed and thrown out. She agreed they were out of date, but added you are wasting your time writing to an MP about sentencing, it’ll be filed – she agreed to help write a template letter to the Ministry of Justice to enable all bikers to send off and start to have sentencing guidelines updated.

If you are interested, keep an eye on our website and Facebook page in the coming months. Sentencing has been a sore subject in Bristol following a thief,  nicknamed ‘Dim Shady’ for posting a picture of his court fine of around £200 to be paid at a pound a week and boasting about what a joke it was. His ‘Dim Shady’ nickname was earned because he left his name and address at the top of the letter for the world to see.

101 and theft figures were also a popular linked point. ASP took the brunt for not having full figures on them that night – but there was a reason that they couldn’t explain until they looked into it, so they took the flack instead.  It uncovered a 101 flaw that no-one had noticed. It all starts with you – us: where do you come from? What culture? Region? Essentially – what DO YOU call your motorcycle?

What do you call your motorcycle?

Motorcycle;  Bike;  Motorbike;  Ride;  Wheels;  Brand Names ;  Motor;  Quad;  Trike; There are more, but suffice to say that the 101 system reads certain things in certain ways. Keywords mean reports are sent down different channels to be logged.

  • A ‘bike’ is a wide term. Bicycle is a Bike, which is a property crime – non-urgent. Police will attend when they can.
  • Motorcycle is a vehicle – vehicle crime; Police attend as soon as possible.
  • Wheels are parts of a bike or something- property theft, non-urgent.
  • Trike is a child’s toy – property theft, non-urgent.
  • IF you SPOTTED a stolen motorcycle, with say kids with no helmets – it was logged as Anti-Social Behaviour.

That is why many will say ‘I reported my bike stolen, police didn’t even come out to see me’… it’s because they may never have known. Kids on a racing a stolen bike around a green would be classed as anti social behaviour as you can’t prove an un-plated bike stolen – only that they are riding in an anti social manner – so a stolen vehicle report wouldn’t exist. It can be very complicated, and you can sympathise with the frustrations Police deal with daily.

It isn’t to HIDE the crime, but to prioritise with limited resources and funding to ensure they go to urgent ‘risk to life’ events first.

Interestingly, when the Inspector went through each report and traced them, spending days upon days going through files where the computers had stored them. Collated them into ‘real’ figures, they made sense. Since then, and many meetings with the call centre – 101 in our area has been changed. Police will attend, take photos and evidence. If you sight a stolen bike, a car is dispatched. It’s working too – 15 arrests and convictions in the following weeks. The figures they release are now accurate.

So, what do you call your motorcycle?

Insight into Criminal Behaviour Orders

These convictions included CBO’s – a Criminal Behaviour Order may seem like a waste of time but you’re not giving it the recognition it deserves. A CBO will have conditions attached, commonly here, most will prohibit the offender from being near or touching a motorcycle for two years.

It will also prohibit them for being in a group of more than two people without their Mother present, which in itself turns a bike-taker into a mummy-taker. Of course, you don’t expect them to adhere to them, some will and have – they are intended as a fast track through the evidence system.

Let’s take a random thief. You find him on a stolen bike – he’s done the rounds, he knows what to say! ‘Found it, was bringing it back to the road and calling you’ – everyone knows you wouldn’t find that much horse manure in a heap, but they know it means Police cannot PROVE they stole it. The CBO takes that away and simplifies things – they are near it, they are in a van on the way to a cell until it’s investigated. This has been replicated in other parts of the country also.

The local paper that were invited to the Motorbike Crime Q&A event, popped in for 10 minutes or so of a 3 hour meeting, reported on ‘Civilian Patrols’ that were being suggested by an attendee whilst they were there. It was reported by others also as an interesting idea. The Chief Superintendent said he would look into it, and involving the community would be a positive thing if they could work it into a scheme. It was looked into but isn’t viable due to too much red tape, variables and insurance liabilities. But credit to them for considering suggestions offered that night.

Another group has been more successful, the SMRB were a group of bikers that recovered dumped and stolen bikes returning them to their owners without charge. It’s not been without its issues, but it is good working with what the community wanted, and once they are settled working within their parameters then they will be fantastic! We can’t say we haven’t cringed at a few things, but it’s a learning curve for them also – this is all new ground for all in the UK – and we hope they continue and do well. There is definitely a place for their work in the community, but parameters must be tightly adhered to for anyone thinking of doing it themselves.

Ways to get involved

If anyone in doing or wanting to do similar in their area, talk to these guys and your local Police – there is a thin line to be walked, so do so with advice and clearance from your local force. The SMRB have recovered 42 bikes to date over around 7 months, ASP average 30-40 a month, and BBTA have stolen back a fair few with intel from Community Take Back Groups.

From there, we launched Bristol Bike Theft Awareness which is aimed at being a link between the community and the Police. Not just bikers – we have the facilities for residents to download video footage without leaving details that we can pass on for intelligence. We have Community Take Back (CTB) Groups which was an idea which came from going to community meetings and hearing residents terrified and having bikes stripped on their gardens with masked youths threatening them if they come out or report them. We have even met parents of wayward teens at these meetings, desperate for help.

Take back your community

The CTB groups are designed to take away anonymity from the kids – they mask up for a reason. The very communities they terrorise are the ones that know exactly who they are. With CTB you can take your communities back from the thieves, if everyone is watching and reporting them – they cannot breathe, cannot operate. They want the community to fear them as the community are the only ones that know who they are. So if you are having these issues in your neighbourhoods, talk about CTB’s – talk to neighbours, they are as cheesed off as you most likely. Form a group, take back your community!

We are working with suppliers of Locks, Trackers, Main Dealers, Industry leader and a forward thinking Insurer this year which we hope will raise the profile and spread the word!

If you want to find out more, visit the site. Talk to us if you want to do similar in your town, we don’t mind! If we can help you make that first contact, we will happily! Meanwhile, big things are happening this year with us – see you at the Bristol Bike Theft Awareness 2018. And don’t forget to lock that bike!

Next, we share our top tips for keeping your motorbike secure!