Fighting crime with grime
THERE’S a different kind of detective work going on in York... " We’ll follow these tracks into the field and see if we can spot anyone, " says Pc John Wedgewood.
He points at the fresh tyre marks in the grass before heading for the gap in the bushes. As he does so, he turns his head to add: " Then it’ll be tally-ho! "
Blasting across an expanse of open ground on the edge of the city, his Suzuki DR350’s front wheel lifts over a rut and I struggle to keep up. The mud spraying from his rear tyre makes his number plate unreadable and I have to keep reminding myself that, yes, the guy up ahead is a policeman.
We’re out with the off road bike unit set up by York police to tackle the ever-present menace of motorcycle theft. It’s a familiar issue but the figures still shock: On one day in January, 35 bikes and mopeds were stolen in York alone. Loads of them end up being thrashed around fields by kids. And that’s why Pc Wedgewood is here.
" We catch them by getting to where they ride them, " he says.
" These are mainly teenagers who go on a mission to steal two, three or four bikes, then trash them on wasteland before setting them on fire or abandoning them. "
Wouldn’t it be nice if he was armed?
The members of the unit are former police traffic bikers who’ve been re-trained for riding off-road. " We had to push for that, " said Wedgewood, who rides a GSX-R750 in his spare time. " Our bosses thought we could just jump on the DRs and ride off! "
The training and the unit has proved very effective – with a 60 per cent drop in bike and moped thefts in some areas.
We head out of York’s Fulford police station and within minutes leave the Tarmac behind and are riding along a cycle track, bordered by fields. We pass a few dog-walkers who all nod and smile the minute they recognise Pc Wedgewood.
The unit’s DR350s look decidedly well-used for police vehicles. They’ve had their indicators removed and the stock road/trail tyres replaced with something better suited to chasing low-lifes across rough terrain.
They’ve also had the rear suspension jacked up and have lower gearing for a slower top speed but better acceleration and pulling power on the dirt.
As we make a right turn on to some rough ground, we come across a pitiful sight. In the middle of an old industrial site is the charred carcass of what had once been someone’s pride and joy. This thing hasn’t just died; it’s been murdered.
It turns out to be the wreckage of a Honda step-thru. Sports bike riders might feel this hardly compares with the professional lifting of their machine, but the feelings of loss are just the same.
Pc Wedgewood said: " People who’ve had a moped stolen are often left without transport. They tend to be on fairly low incomes. To replace it is a big thing for them. "
Standing beside the pathetic remains of the dead Honda I’m forced to admit that if that was my bike, I’d be gutted.
And in a way, we all benefit from what is a bit of the old zero tolerance. Stop kids nicking mopeds and they might not grow up into adults who organise rings of bike thieves.
Sadly, today our trail runs out. There is no moped thief at the end of it.
But the next day Wedgewood is more successful. He bags three red-handed.
" I know what the feeling is towards people who steal bikes, " he said. " I feel it myself. " Words like that shouldn’t be printed.
Even if this is just one small weapon in the war on bike thieves, it’s proof that someone, somewhere is taking it seriously – and it can have an effect.