14:09, June 06 176 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-06 14:09:22
The Guardian view on moped crime: more complex than headlines say

Britain is in the grip of a new kind of crime wave. Or so it would seem if one were to believe the headlines. Hordes of helmeted youngsters are cruising urban streets armed with hammers and bottles of acid ready to smash the windows of expensive shops or rob passing commuters. “Moped-enabled crime” is a phrase that has passed from the police database to the front pages. For obvious reasons celebrity victims, such as the comedian Michael McIntyre and the finance pundit Martin Lewis, have captured the media’s attention. There have also been fatal stabbings; victims have been beaten, others sprayed with acid and some dragged along pavements. It is a growing issue: in London, the Metropolitan police say the number of such offences has risen from just over 1,000 in 2014 to more than 19,000 in the year to last September. As with so many debates about crime, it helps to examine what is driving the numbers.

London represents half of all robberies from the person, so it’s right to concentrate on the capital for acts of theft. In other parts of the UK, police officers have been struggling to combat the use of quad bikes linked to antisocial behaviour, shootings and drug dealing. While the media often highlight well-to-do victims, it seems that the rise of the gig economy has presented thieves on scooters with an easy target: delivery drivers. These low-paid workers ride mopeds worth stealing and also often carry cash. Last summer such was the onslaught that drivers from UberEats and Deliveroo took their protest to parliament. Care must be taken to ensure that crimes are not framed so that they pathologise a group of young people in which every transgression is seen through the lens of feral youth terrorising wealthy Londoners.

It may be that gangs are a problem, but more mundane explanations are more useful. Mopeds, which often have no or limited security, are too easy to steal. Mobile phones, in every pedestrian’s hands, have become worth pilfering for their screens and batteries. Failing to understand offences – or worse, using them on political grounds – makes it harder to have an informed debate about which policies will be most likely to reduce levels of crime. As a society we have to be vigilant against the idea of the criminal as a scapegoat for social ills, but not so that such a guardedness obscures a real concern for victims of crimes. This tension is heightened in times of austerity. Handled badly, a moral panic sparking a heavy-handed police action can see bad laws follow.

Thankfully this has not been the reaction, so far, to this wave of attacks. Instead the police have responded with a series of sensible measures – ranging from making mopeds harder to steal and deploying tyre-deflating spikes to increasing the use of data. The Home Office is also consulting on how police officers could be protected from prosecution if they crash during a chase. It is important to remember that the first duty of the police is always to safeguard the wider public when travelling at high speed. Police work is not like the movies, where officers catch criminals in the act and force them to the kerb after a car chase through crowded streets. Criminals are brought to justice largely because of the patient, steady accumulation of evidence. The Met’s budget has fallen 20% since 2010 and the force is facing further cuts – impacting officers’ ability to work on the ground. While the police are changing the way they pursue investigations, it is doubtful whether innovations in approach could outweigh the effects of cuts. Unless forces are adequately resourced, it’s hard to see how a long-term crackdown on moped crime will work.

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