Cutting Room: Police hit back at phone theft menace

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Handset theft isn’t likely to end anytime soon, but Samantha Tomaszczyk says a new police crackdown on the crime may make criminals think twice

Mobile phone theft in London has reached epic proportions.

Recent statistics on the incidence of theft are shocking: in December alone, almost 10,000 handsets were stolen in the capital. That’s 314 per day – a 64 per cent increase on the same period three years ago.

So it was reassuring to see the police take action with a 24-hour London-wide crackdown on mobile phone thieves and those that trade in stolen devices – ‘Operation Big Wing’. Despite only three of the 32 boroughs that took part publishing figures on the number of mobile phones seized in their area, the number of phones recovered already stands in the hundreds.

But what was uncovered on May 23 was just the very tip of the iceberg. A report from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published in April revealed the biggest rise in crime across the UK was – you guessed it – mobile phone theft. Criminals are increasingly grabbing phones from unsuspecting victims while on bikes, so they can make a speedy getaway, the report found.

This arguably highlights the need for prevention as well as cure – which the police has recognised.

As well as raiding properties and businesses, the police also spent May 23 raising awareness on the risk of having your phone stolen, and how it could be prevented. In Merton, for example, commuters were told to be vigilant, and were also advised to register their phone on property database immobilise.com, which makes it easier to report stolen devices.

You have to wonder whether the message is sinking in though. In January, the police launched an advertising campaign with the hope it would persuade people not to parade their smartphone around. The tagline on one read: “take care when they’re on show”, yet mobile phone theft is still rising.

One obvious issue is that situations in which we feel most vulnerable – when we are lost or feeling threatened, for example – are the same situations in which we take out our mobile phone to find directions or call for help.

Let’s not forget that the whole purpose of a mobile phone is so you can be reached when out and about and not in the safety of your own home.

In other words, the fight against mobile phone theft is not going to end anytime soon, but criminals after smartphones should beware – as they are now one of the police’s top priorities.

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