Going Going Bike

Oct 112011

I’ve only been stopped once by police officers here in London to prove that the bike I was riding was indeed mine. I’m surprised police forces don’t do it more often as it can bring results in detecting bike theft like a recent campaign in Preston by Lancashire Police shows.

Lancashire Police has in the last fortnight been asking cyclists to prove the bikes they are riding are their own.

Proof of ownership

The rider is then asked to prove, either with a receipt or some other proof, that the bicycle actually belongs to them. A failure to convince the police that the bike is not their own could see the bike being confiscated by the police.

We asked Lancashire Police to clarify what they termed as proof of ownership. They told us that if someone is stopped and cannot verify ownership on the spot, the bike can be seized and the person riding it will be asked to provide documents to prove ownership at a police station in order to get the bike back.

Acceptable documentation

Acceptable documentation regarding ownership is a receipt, a photograph of the rider on the bike seized, a house insurance document/bicycle insurance document that has the bike listed or a bank statement showing the purchase of the bike from a cycle shop. Lancashire Police said that inquiries could also be carried out with the shop that the bike was bought from to confirm ownership.

The decision on a police officer seizing a bike where proof of ownership has not been proved is left very much to the individual officer concerned and Lancashire Police is keen to stress that not every bike is confiscated.

Targeting riders

Police officers are of course not stopping every cyclist out riding their bike. People are only stopped from riding their bikes if an officer believes that the bike could be stolen, Lancashire Police told us. For instance, a man who is riding a woman’s bike or a child’s bike will be stopped as that instantly rouses suspicion.

Results so far

Neighbourhood officers in the Fulwood area of Preston have already seized 17 bikes in a fortnight after suspecting them to be stolen. One seized bikes has already been returned to the rightful owner.

See also

The battle for Blackfriars Bridge

Edinburgh tops “Big Count” on employees cycling to work

from Going Going Bike – Auctions, Bike News, Cycle Stuff

  26 Responses to “Stop and proof campaign brings results”

  1. I don’t like this, it’s just a big brother approach.
    What if the police asked for proof of ID for your mobile phone you are using?
    To me it is just turning a situation on it’s head, can’t prevent it so let’s get proof that you own it. How many people have bikes that are years old and have lost the receipt, bought second hand etc?
    I have insurance and keep it on me but I don’t like these things, too often they are the thin edge of the wedge.

  2. People with old second-hand bikes (read: mainly poorer people) are unlikely to have receipts – why would you have hung on to them for years and years?
    More to the point, the police shouldn’t be punishing people for not retaining documents (and having them on them at all times) when there is no legal requirement to do so.

  3. I don’t carry any proof of ownership – why should I ?  Unless the police can prove a bike is stolen then they are overstepping the mark – innocent until proven guilty

  4. I’ve built my bike up from scratch – the frame, wheels, handlebars, chain, chain ring, pedals, bottom bracket, etc, etc
    Am I supposed to carry around a fistful of receipts that demonstrate I own the bike?
    Who would expect me to have kept all those receipts anyway, because I certainly haven’t (especially as most of the parts were bought on-line: shameless plug for Charliethebikemonger.com!)

  5. I’m in about four minds as to how right/appropriate this is, but as a practical measure easiest solution it to put the frame number on piece of paper in your wallet… (or, in my case, the various frame numbers since I use various bikes with varying degrees of regularity).
    Actually this is broken in two senses – firstly its against the basic premise of innocent until proven otherwise and secondly those most likely to be affected are more casual “practical” cyclists which is something that still needs to be encouraged

  6. The actual fact is that the police must have reasonable grounds under section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to stop you in the first place. Those grounds would have to be related to the suspicion that the bike is stolen and there is no other reason other than a right to stop a cyclist to test brakes or check lighting etc or if you were cycling erratically and so on. The notion that you should be able to prove ownership on the spot is nonsense unless the officer has suspicion that the bike is stolen and he would have to justify this to the cyclist first. He would also have to tell you who he is, why he is detaining you, the grounds for his suspicion, what he is looking for, his ID, and that you are entitled to a copy of the search record. Unless he can do all these things then you are perfectly at liberty to excuse yourself and carry on about your business. Remember the police must follow the law, they are not above it.

  7. I’m surprised by all the negative comments. As someone who has had their bike stolen before, I think it’s a good move. 
    As if prevention is really possible. We all know if someone wants to steal from you, they can. I don’t think it’s right for police to start confiscating bikes from people who were probably oblivious that these checks were being put in place but assuming this is something people know about – why not have people carry proof of ownership.

  8. I’m ambivalent about this. As a cyclist, I hate bike thieves, but being stopped ‘out of the blue’ and being expected to be able to prove ownership of something there and then, would seriously irritate me, especially if the said article of property was then seized without justification. Especially, since I use my bike as my main means of transport and loss of my ‘steed’, would severely impede my mobility. Collecting my seized bike would not just mean hopping into the car to collect it. If this were to happen to me, I would be looking to compensation for out-of-pocket expenses and compensation for the wasted time and resulting inconvenience
    I have no objection to people asked for their identity and bikes being confiscated from known bike thieves and burglars, but not people chosen at random.
    Surely the simplest answer is to register one’s bikes on immobilise etc. and point them to search the database, which they can do there and then. Assuming one’s details match those on the register, that’s it.
    Seizure of property without sufficient reason must be unlawful.

  9. For example, last night 12/10/11 I was returning from the Blackfriars flashride [round trip >53 miles]. If I had been stopped on the return, and my bike seized, I wouldn’t have got home at 22.30 [I cycled from North Surrey and on my return had to detour around Richmond Park, which was by then closed, as a result I got lost]. I would have had considerable difficulty going by Public transport as I usually cycle everywhere and don’t know the routes.
    Naturally, there would be the considerable inconvenience and difficulty of recovering my bicycle.

    • The police aren’t bothered about what happens to you once they’ve seized your vehicle- this is blindingly obvious from watching the various TV programmes about the police. Fair enough, the driver is inconvenienced by the taking of their car- but the innocent passengers of that car are left to fend for themselves.

      Whose fault would it be, if the police seized a woman’s bicycle, leaving her to be later assaulted during her long walk home…?
      Because it does happen – when my friend’s bicycle was stolen from the hospital she works at, she was faced with a 5 mile walk through a tough estate. And yes, she was assaulted. It wouldn’t have happened if she had her bike, ‘cos she wouldn’t have had to go that way home.

  10. Katy, The Police have no powers to remove your property from you unless they have clear evidence and in a free country you do not have to carry proof of ownership.  The “Sus Laws” were repealed in the 1980s for good reason.  If the officer believes you are in possesion of stolen property he can arrest you for that or theft if he has evidence.  
    James, Not all bikes have frame numbers.

  11. I think confiscation would always be a last resort. Being able to identify components, particular scartches or marks, original bike shop selling sticker, which is usally about the frame somewhere or some mods you’ve made, I would expect to satisfy most plods that the bike probably belongs to you. I don’t expect thieves keep a ‘hot’ bike long enough to register any of the above into their heads.

  12. Its a good thing that the police are taking bike theft seriously, but like many I don’t carry proof of ownership with me when out. My bike is registered with Bike Shepherd and displays a tag.

  13. As someone who’s also recently had a few bikes stolen, As a minimum, I think this should be a wake-up call to everyone who has nothing to hide to register your bike on http://www.bikeregister.com – it’s free! You can even print a copy of the log book for your records …and no I don’t work for BikeRegister! Just think, if every new bike that was sold was entered onto a national register, and combine this with Police efforts like this – we might see a reduction?! If we then start registering the “legal” change of ownership of 2nd hand bikes – what are we left with??? That’s right – hooky bikes!!!! Just carry your printed logbook and you’ve nothing to worry about.

  14. Having been reunited with a Spec Tricross the police confiscated from a fighty git the night it was stolen, I’m all for random checks.  The fact he said it was his but still handed it over without a fuss was a clear enough indication of guilt.  What irritated me more was the fact the police held on to the bike for 6 months, after the WPC I reported the theft to failed to log the theft.Bike appeared to have been left mostly uncovered and the whole drivechain and rear wheel were toast by the time I got it back.  Almost wish it had been stolen now….especially after the hours of constant internet and local shop trawling desperately looking for any signs of it.I’m all for the stops though – in a lot of cases legislation exists simply to make things easier when a crime has definitely been committed.  Occasionally a jobsworth will go over the top and follow their rules to the letter (example 1: bus driver not letting me on with a 1kg Planet X carbon frame – completely unbuilt – as he said another passenger could be injured if the bus stopped suddenly.  The bus was empty and it was 11pm…also, golf umbrellas are somehow fine yet are clearly far more pointy and heavy…), but for the most part, if common sense and discretion are employed things are usually fine.  It’s free to register bikes on thebikeregister or immobilise so I’d go further and suggest all bikes over £500 are compulsorily registered on a database when first purchased and a transferable document used for second hand purchases.  It’d make bike theft much less appealing (much harder to sell) and subsequently bike and contents insurance premiums would fall.  How can that be a bad thing? 

  15. In response – of course we shouldn’t have to provide proof of ownership and we are innocent until proven guilty but what if the police do have reasonable grounds to think it nicked. They must be able to take reasonable action and not let the toe-rags get away with it.

  16. I’m outraged that the police should waste their time on a “stop and search” approach to bicycle theft. Only a few people account for the majority of thefts. Therefore, it would be more effecitve to develop (1) better advice to bicycle owners about their private parking and (2) better surveillance of public parking, rather than harassment of the majority (of innocent) cyclists. Charlie

  17. At last some positive action to stop theiving scum.
    After having three bikes stolen inside 18 months all of ours are now registered on imobilise – so very easy to prove ownership. I fully support this initiative and perhaps if Thames Valley police had been proactive my son would still have one of his bikes.

  18. The depressing thing about many of the answers is the presumption that the police are up to no good. It makes me feel that very few people have actually spoken with a policeman. Generally speaking, I have found that they are not the enemy, surprise, surprise, they think they are there to help. Also, the number of people who simply have not read the article which makes it quite clear that they only stop people who they are suspicious about.
    What is being described here is exactly what I would expect the police to do without any special initiative – if they see someone on a bike which doesn’t look right, they stop them, and if they aren’t convincing about the ownership, then they take it away. Would you rather that they just shrugged their shoulders in the face of an uncooperative rider and send them on their way?
    Most police are quite capable of common sense: the response people give when challenged is often enough to help them decide. So you might tell them the bike is so old that you do not have proof, but you could then either tell them something about the bike that suggests you know it well, or suggest that they could ring a relative who would support you. The way you respond is often as much as they will need.
    I’ve been stopped by the police a couple of times. I’ve never felt that I was being put into a corner or misrepresented, and I generally am law-abiding with ocassional lapses behind the wheel ;) .

  19. @Ian Spencer – I have spoken with many police officers (men and women). Most are good but some are stupid and I would expect them to stick to the letter of the rule: no proof = confiscation.

    Also, when it’s you one-on-one with a police, you have basically no come-back. The police seem to have a presumption that officers are in the right, which isn’t always the case.

    As others have written, I’d prefer the police to actually do some surveillance of parking areas where thieves have been reported, rather than stop-and-searching cyclists on flimsy grounds like having a unisex bike or something.

  20. Pandon me, I just threw up all over my keyboard. What a horrifying idea. Who says only women ride mixtes, or step throughs? What about those who have bikes that dont fit? People who were given bikes as gifts? Anyways, how hard is it for a halfway intelligent bike thief to come up with a story and take a cell phone picture of themselves with the bike before they go riding it around town? What about people who dont take pictures of themseves with the bikes they bought 20 years ago? How much do you think the police will end up paying out in compensation to those who dont “prove it” on the spot and have the bikes confiscated (even though they were the rightful owners, just on their way to an appointment)? This is a GREAT example of people who know very little about bikes deciding to step in and sort someones else’s business out. Why dont they work on catching bike theft when its happening? Bait bikes and cameras? Provide facilitys for people to lock their bikes inside? Oh, wait, then you wouldnt have an excuse to pull over undesirables.

  21. Acceptable documentation regarding ownership is:
    a) ‘a receipt’. – I have these somewhere.
    b) ‘a photograph of the rider on the bike seized’ – Photographs? Do they mean one of those papery things, or will one taken on a smartphone just seconds after stealing it be good enough?
    c) ‘a house insurance document/bicycle insurance document that has the bike listed’ – My bikes are insured on the house contents, but I don’t have a copy of this – one was never supplied.
    d) ‘a bank statement showing the purchase of the bike from a cycle shop’. – Probably none of my bikes appeared on my bank statement. IIRC, they were bought on a credit card.
    e) ‘Lancashire Police said that inquiries could also be carried out with the shop that the bike was bought from to confirm ownership’. – I suspect that since most of my bikes were bought some time ago, this won’t work.
    Reading this list, one wonders what planet they’re from.

  22. So what would the majority of people who have commented on here in a negative way suggest is the best way to combat cycle theft.  It happened to us only a few weeks ago in Chester city centre.  It’s not pleasant coming back to find your pride and joy has gone, probably never to be seen again.  It’s unfortunate that no one bothered to stop the person with the bolt cutters stealing my husbands bike in a busy shopping street in the middle of the afternoon but I suppose they thought who am I to question his/her ownership or right to be doing that.

  23. You are a pathetic organisation!
    How many cyclists were stopped to get 1 result?
    Are you saying that this is good idea by the filth?
    Shouldn’t you be asking if the cops have better things to do?

  24. Here in the States that would never pass Constitutional muster as it violates our 4th  (unreasonable search/seizure) and 5th (denied property without due process) Amendments. The police would be sued and their emplying jurisdiction would be on the hook for all legal expenses as well. Bicycle theft is a real problem here as in Britain but violating the rights of the innocent is why we split with you guys and why I still have the right to carry a Glock while I cycle in Ohio ;-)

  25. I have a right to go out on any of my bikes without fear of having it confiscated just because I don’t carry proof of ownership around with me.

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