The market for stolen bikes could be hit hard if a national database of frame serial numbers that can be searched by regional police forces and the public is created.
Anti-bike theft campaigner John Moss, founder of www.checkthatbike.co.uk, believes the London Metropolitan Police in conjunction with the Home Office is on the brink of publishing data about its cache of thousands of recovered bikes. He hopes other forces will follow suit
Currently, the lack of an open central database often means that unclaimed bikes are left to gather dust in police stations until they are eventually auctioned off – often for a fraction of their value. Today the Met and Transport for London highlighted the thousands of bikes lying idle at police stations all over the capital at an event at Bethnal Green Police Station.
Moss has been collecting petition signatures calling on the 43 England and Wales regional police forces to establish the record and is close to his 2,500 target. He said a tiny percentage of the small number of bikes that the police do recover are ever returned to the owner. In London it was estimated to be as low as four percent of recovered bikes in 2011.
"I've established that police forces do not search other police forces records when performing stolen bike checks," Moss told BikeRadar. "What we work out is that the few bikes the police do recover – if they've been transported across a police force border means mean that [the recovering] police force stands next to no chance of finding out who actually owns the stolen bike.
"They end up selling it on while the victim is left without a bike," he added.
Moss said the database would also mean people in the market for a second-hand bike could run a serial number check on a frame and see whether it had been reported stolen.
"I've been working with the Home Office through their police transparency team," he said. "The Met's going to open their database to both the public and other police forces so people can go in and check their frame numbers against what they've got. That'll help when you're buying a bike to check it and make sure it's not been reported nicked."
According to the recently launched website Stolen Bike Statistics – also set up by Moss – almost 116,000 bikes were reported stole in 2011/12. Because most bike thefts go unreported, the number of stolen bikes is estimated to be up to five times higher.