MCN talks to Steve Powell of the NCIS

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MCN: What is the long term aim of these reports?

Powell: Our fundamental aim is reduce theft and increase recovery rates. We aim to do that by building enough intelligence for our law-enforcement partners to nick the criminal and get them before the courts. Our work is to provide timely and actionable intelligence for our law enforcement partners – local police forces. We do that by developing intelligence on corrupt motorcycle businesses and organisations.

The conclusions of the report seem a little obvious. We already know ” criminals often operate by setting up a legitimate business as a front for their activities. ” What does it really tell us?

Powell: It’s highlighted the geographical problematic areas. For the average motorcyclist for example, it tells them where the problematic areas are. If you leave a bike in Westminster, for example, you’re going to have to look for something to lock it to. A copy of the report has gone to each police force to provide intelligence. We also know that only 16 per cent of stolen motorcycles are recovered and that the vast majority are broken up for spares. We know that the most commonly used method to steal a bike is probably the crudest. Invariably, criminal gangs will steal a Ford Transit van, put false plates on it and cruise an area where a specific target bike has been identified. Then one or two or more will put scaffolding poles through the bike’s wheels and lift it into the van. The bike will then be stripped down to parts as soon as the van’s doors are closed, sometimes within minutes. We also know the surveillance tactics used to identify where these bikes are. Thieves will cruise an area in a vehicle which isn’t stolen simply to monitor where bikes are parked. They’ll then contact their associates and tell them the locations of the bikes.

Why are you focussing on bikes over 500cc when 60 per cent of stolen bikes are scooters?

Powell: This report is precursor to tackling motorcycle crime as a whole. We intend this to look at scooter theft. That’s a problem, too.

Intelligence certainly suggests it’s superbike theft organised criminals are involved in. Scooters tend to be stolen by opportnists.

Are security devices like Datatagging, Alphadot and SmartWater effective at tackling the problem?

Powell: They do help. Firstly, they act as a deterrent to thieves, and secondly, they greatly assist the police in identifying the owners of stolen bikes. We intend to continue working closely with manufacturers to keep motorcycle security very much at the forefront of their priorities. Honda’s SmartWater system, [award winning DNA type system] which comes as standard on new bikes, is exactly the kind of thing we want to see.

If the vast majority of stolen bikes are broken for spares, isn’t returning them to the owner a virtually impossible task?

Powell: This is where we need to work with manufacturers to prioritise the use of security systems like SmartWater so that we can at least identify the parts. It will also help us to bring successful prosecutions.

What can we do to avoid buying stolen parts?

Powell: We know criminals operate by setting up a legitimate business as a front. Their stock may be made up of 80 per cent stolen parts and 20 per cent legitimate parts. The bottom line is, as long as there is a market for motorcycle parts, people will steal bikes to break them. We just want to make it harder for them. Our report has highlighted the problem, but we need genuine motorcycle enthusiasts to help us build intelligence. If you know of someone who you think may handle stolen parts, tell us. You can use Crime Stoppers. Every piece of intelligence we receive is thoroughly researched and analysed. You’re our eyes and ears.

How effective are alarms?

Powell: We do know of cases where bikes have been stolen with the alarm activated. They may deter some thieves but they obviously don’t deter them all. Thieves have an element of skill and their own resources within the criminal network.

What about chains?

Powell: Yes, certainly if they’re coupled with ground anchors. Having highlighted areas where bikes are vulnerable to theft, we want to encourage local authorities to install ground anchors.

But will local authorities listen?

Powell: In my experience, local authorities are very interested in stamping-out crime full stop. Whether it’s street annoyance or crime at this level.

Why is a report needed to make Local Authorities realise that locking bikes to ground anchors will stop them getting stolen?

Powell: Well, the report is meant to highlight the problematic areas. It’s there for everyone to read, and I’ve no doubt that local authorities will look at their own areas and take this on board enthusiastically. That’s certainly what we’ll be pushing for.

Are all stolen bikes broken down for parts?

Powell: No. There are a certain percentage that get exported out of the UK, a certain percentage are given a new identity and a certain percentage are used purely for racing. The thieves will thrash the guts out of them and then go and steal another one.

What other areas are you looking at?

Powell: The NCIS has a strategy of policing sport events, designed to target these thieves and raise the profile of the problem. It’s also designed to tackle thieves who see these events as an opportunity to steal bikes. We policed Weston-Super-Mare beach race a couple of weeks ago. We had specific intelligence telling us that known motorcycle thieves were targeting events like this around the country with a view to stealing motorcycles. We then developed specific intelligence on criminals we knew would be at Weston Super Mare and co-ordinated a police operation with Avon and Somerset Police force, the home force of the area, together neighbouring forces. We were able to tell them what vehicles the criminals would be using and provide photographs of them and their associates. As a direct result of this information, one particular vehicle was stopped three times on the Friday evening. We’ve no doubt that had a direct effect on the number of bikes stolen at the event – only two, and one of them was recovered in the back of a van. Two people were arrested – two known associates of the people we’d provided intelligence on. We also co-ordinated an operation at the BMF show in Peterborough, whereby uniformed officers patrolled the parked bikes and used Datatag scanners to detect stolen bikes.

Why is it that some of them are known to you, but you haven’t arrested them?

Powell: Intelligence leads us to suspect that certain individuals are involved. It’s our job to develop that intelligence to build cases on them. Then we would pass the information on to our law enforcement partners – the relevant police force.

Why do you think there has been such media interest in the report?

Powell: It’s affecting general members of the public, it’s affecting genuine motorcycle enthusiasts, it’s affecting the insurance industry and it’s affecting law enforcment. It’s knock-on effect is colossal.

MCN Staff

By MCN Staff