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How Police investigate motorcycle theft | Insider’s guide to police procedure

Consumer Editor of Bennetts BikeSocial



How police investigate motorcycle theft_THUMB


The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has said that all ‘home burglaries’ in England and Wales will be attended by the police which is of course, great news. As a measure in dealing with ‘acquisitive crime’, the NPCC announcement comes as a welcome sign, but it doesn’t mean the police will always attend if your motorcycle’s stolen...

Some forces do already attend all home burglaries, some don’t. But all police forces have standards they need to reach to prove their effectiveness to His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). And now, a police force’s attendance at home burglaries will be a measurement of its effectiveness.

As a Sergeant in a specialist Roads Policing Department in Merseyside Police’s Matrix Dept – dealing not only with road traffic issues but also with vehicle crime – I’ve assisted police forces across the UK in dealing with nuisance motorcyclists. This invariably means dealing with stolen motorcycles, and as a result I’ve addressed the annual conference of the International Association of Auto Theft Investigators (IAATI) at Loughborough University and am a regular at the Motorcycle Crime Reduction Group think tank. 


The difference between burglary and theft

“My bike’s been robbed” is what I hear sometimes, but for clarity it’s important to differentiate the difference between burglary and theft, and for that matter, robbery.

They all come under the Theft Act 1968, where Section 1 has this definition:

“A person is guilty of theft if he dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intention of permanently depriving the other of it”.

The sections continue between 2 and 6 where the definition of those words is laid out, until at Section 8 the act deals with robbery where it says:

“A person is guilty of robbery if he steals, and immediately before or at the time of doing so, and in order to do so, he uses force on any person or puts or seeks to put any person in fear of being then and there subjected to force”.

Section 9 of the theft Act explains that a person is guilty of burglary if:

  • He enters any building or part of a building as a trespasser and with intent to commit any such offence as is mentioned in subsection (2) [Theft is included in subsection 2]

  • Having entered any building or part of a building as a trespasser he steals or attempts to steal anything in the building or that part of it or inflicts or attempts to inflict on any person therein any grievous bodily harm.


How police investigate motorcycle theft_04

Breaking through a wall is extremely rare, but it’s pretty clearly a burglary…


So what does that mean for motorcycle theft? Well, as a scenario, if you park your bike up in the street and when you return it has gone, this would be a theft.

However, if you were with your bike and the perpetrators threatened you with force while they stole it, that’s robbery.

If you lock your bike up in the garage or shed at home, and in the morning find the garage door forced open and your bike gone, that’s burglary. 

For the purposes of burglary, any building or part of a building is specifically mentioned in the act, but we’ll come back to that later and how it measures up against the NPCC announcement...


Why Police rarely attend the scene of a motorcycle theft

Now that we’ve differentiated between theft, burglary and robbery, you can begin to see why Police might not attend the scene of a motorcycle theft, but might for a burglary and will for a robbery.

What is there to be gained from you waiting for the police to arrive to show them where your bike was? You would both be looking at an empty space. That’s unless of course there’s CCTV available, but the police can ask you over the phone if there are any cameras nearby that cover the area where your bike was. If there are, and you can see the cameras, then the police should – I’m stressing ‘should’ – attend and have a look at the footage.

Fingerprints left by a culprit in an open space where the public can go about their business can be of little evidential value taken from a single crime scene, but that doesn’t mean that a pattern of them aren’t. If the police don’t take fingerprints where they might be available though, how do they establish a pattern? Well, that’s why it’s especially important to report any theft or suspicious activity…


Reporting suspicious activity to the Police DOES make a difference. You might not see an immediate result, but the intelligence built up can lead to significant arrests


Why it’s important to report a theft

There are 43 police forces in England and Wales, each one covering a specific geographic area. That area will be spilt into divisions, and each division will have a specific area of responsibility.

Inside that area will be the street where you live or the one where you park your bike, and it will have a beat number.

Every phone call or online report to the Police gets logged and the resulting data can be filtered in any number of ways. For instance, I could look at occurrences of motorcycle theft as a whole and then filter them down to a map. I could also look at logs to see where there was a mention of specific words like ‘motorcycle’, ‘scrambler’, ‘off-roader’, etc and see where those references related to. In doing so I could ensure that call-handlers asked specific question sets if those words came up. It all helps to build a picture that enables officers to act on current information.

As an example, look at the way Merseyside Police dealt with theft of motorcycles from visitors on route to the TT. By analysing where thefts had occurred in previous years and scrutinising reports daily, (among a lot of other tactics), I was able to direct patrols to the areas where gangs were operating, enabling them to arrest the offenders.


How Merseyside Police caught bike thieves

Watch as officers arrest thieves using data from crime reports


How much do the Police really care about motorcycle theft?

I don’t think anyone joins the Police with the thought of ‘I don’t really care about crime and trying to make a difference to the community,’ although there’s always the odd one or two you hear about in the press (and rightly so to expose them).

The Police have had their numbers decimated over the last decade or so though, and that’s felt in the way that they’ve reacted to crime. Police Chiefs across the country had to tell staff that they were having to reorganise and restructure as a way of meeting demands with a dwindling budget. I don’t think that any of those police chiefs will have taken that task on gladly. Fortunately, Officer numbers are on the increase again.

The Police seem to pick up the pieces for other agencies who have also had cuts to the way they operate… it’s always the Police who have to pick up the slack. The Chair of the National Police Chiefs Council Martin Hewitt said “A National Audit Office report in 2018 showed that 64% of emergency calls to the police were not about crime. Some are entirely legitimate police activity, but a substantial proportion see Police stepping in to health and social work because of an absence of other services. We have been discussing this for years and there has been no meaningful change – there needs to be for us to improve crime rates”.

I experienced it first hand while working with TT visitors. I had identified that there were a lot of bikes being stolen from German, Spanish and French visitors. Peter Hickman – now a Bennetts ambassador – got involved and helped with a video, as did an officer from outside our department who could speak fluently to our visitors. It started out as a good addition to our ability to get a message across to the riders – to stop bikes being stolen in the first place rather than reacting to a theft – but it ended with that officer dealing with a member of the public who was having mental health difficulties.

We lost the officer to our operation, and when I had arranged for suitably qualified staff to attend and help the person, it was a Police team specifically set up to deal with triaging mental health crisis on the street who attended.

That was four officers dealing with that person who needed help from other agencies.

On the other hand, people might also say that dealing with bike crime is low level and my staff should have helped the person, or that they should have been deployed elsewhere dealing with serious crime. Serious crime like what? Theft, burglary or robbery?

The point is that there weren’t enough officers, and at the same time there probably aren’t enough staff in the other sectors that the Police are picking the demand up from.

It’s not about playing one public sector against another, it’s about defining roles and responsibilities.


How a shed is defined by the CPS could make a difference based on the NPCC announcement


Will the Police now attend a burglary involving a motorcycle?

Let’s look at the NPCC statement in more detail. It specifically mentions home burglary, where we know from Section 9 of the Theft Act that a burglary can occur in any ‘building’, so it doesn’t follow that every burglary will qualify for a home visit.

A dwelling – what you might call a home – has no definition in law, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) cites that a dwelling shall be a question of fact in each case. The Administrative Court in R v Hudson [2017] EWCH 841 (Admin), while holding that it was for the tribunal of fact to determine, said “In broad terms, the more habitable a building as a matter of fact, the more, other things being equal, it is likely to be a ‘dwelling’”

I count my garage as part of my dwelling, but it’s not attached to the house and I wouldn’t want to live in it, so will the Police attend my garage burglary if my bike is stolen? It is after all, not a home.

The NPCC statement clears it up a bit in stating that Chief Constables will work to ensure this commitment (to attend all home burglaries) is implemented as soon as practically possible. They will prioritise attendance where people’s homes have been burgled, as opposed to outbuildings and garden sheds.

NPCC Chair Martin Hewitt said “We want to see a review of crime recording processes. Complying with the process is an industry in policing that takes officers away from neighbourhood policing and the subsequent statistics present a misleading picture to the public about the reality of crime. Right now, for crime recording purposes a burglary of someone’s family home is treated the same as the loss of a spade from a shed. There must be a better way”.

So, in the short term at least, unless you keep your bike in the living room, you might not get a visit from the police, even if that ‘spade in a shed’ mentioned by Martin Hewitt is worth £10,000.

On the other hand, for crime recording purposes it would be nice to know what percentages of burglary in your area were committed in outbuildings, as opposed to dwellings.

Greater Manchester Police committed to attending all burglaries in July 2021, and in doing so have attended 94% of Burglaries. This has seen a massive increase in arrests across the force of 95.8%.

That wasn’t an NPCC trial to see if it worked though; Greater Manchester Police had previously been under-recording crime to the point where almost 1 in 5 reports of crime were failing to hit the books. They were criticised by the then HM inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham, and had to appoint a new Chief Constable to turn things around. It does show though that it’s better to have a police presence than not.


Investing in decent security is something you’ll likely only have to do once


How to avoid having your bike stolen

Having your motorcycle stolen can be traumatic, and since this article is about burglary let’s concentrate more on that side. 

Keep your bike out of sight. Bennetts Motorcycle Insurance understands the value of this, and includes locked metal sheds shipping containers and wooden sheds (on a concrete base) as garages on its insurance policies.

Secure it. If your bike’s in a garage then the weak point is the door or window; a thief who gets in through a window might not be able to get the bike out of it, but garage doors can be opened from the inside without a key, so invest in some extra external locking devices for the door. Get a ground anchor too, and secure the bike to it with a decent lock. Get the best you can afford as it’s pretty much a lifetime investment. You can find reviews of locks here, and ground anchors here.

Don’t advertise it. We used to keep a race supermoto in our family garage, but the van we carried it to race meetings in was plain white. We didn’t have any race team stickers on the outside of the van (not even a yellow 46) and it was backed right up to the garage to roll the bike straight into it. No one knew there was a race bike in there, its engine was never started there (it was loud) and it was always cleaned out of sight. It was in a nice area, but thieves travel, sometimes on stolen bikes.


Dave’s race Supermoto would be a tempting tarket for thieves, so it was always kept out of sight


Keep your eyes peeled. Always keep a look out when you’re returning home; are you being followed? I check the cars behind me and if I don’t like the look of them, I don’t make the final few turns. It’s easy enough to deploy some anti-surveillance, but it’s dreadfully difficult getting back to a good night’s sleep after your bike’s been stolen.

Report everything. Tell the police what’s happening in your area by reporting suspicious things to them; while for now the attendance at burglaries is concentrating on those from the home, as officer numbers rise they should be able to start attending the shed and outbuildings ones that they aren’t going to prioritise for now...

The key thing to remember is to be sensible, use security, and take advice, then you’ll be much less likely to suffer any form of theft and you can just get on with enjoying biking.


Keep your garage door shut to avoid prying eyes