Mugging gangs are swapping mopeds for quieter e-bikes and disguising themselves as commuters to sneak up on victims, the Metropolitan Police has warned.
Gangs are increasingly opting for e-bikes as the new modes of getaway transport to allow them to quietly blend into the crowd and evade detection, as they do not require number plates.
It follows a heavy police crackdown on gangs using mopeds to snatch phones and watches from unsuspecting victims on pavements.
Officers told The Telegraph this week they have started to see a “displacement” of the traditional use of motorcycles to target people.
The e-bikes, which can cost up to £3,000, are stolen by the gangs before having their top speeds derestricted, which means they can travel up to 40mph on and off pavements.
Dressing as commuters
Officers working in Operation Venice, a team in the Met which was set up to combat drive-by thefts, said they have seen instances of criminals ditching Nike trainers for brogues in an attempt to appear as a normal commuter travelling to work.
The Met Police has launched a campaign (Look Up and Look Out) to remind people returning to the daily commute that the gangs are still operating, albeit using new tactics.
“When we started tackling this problem, there were a lot of criminals that thought the crime had no risk, just a lot of reward – then we came on the scene,” Police Sergeant Clem Jones, who is in charge of the operation, told The Telegraph.
“They make themselves look like early morning commuters. They know what they need to wear. They try to make out like they are normal people, sometimes with high-vis jackets on to look like builders.
“We are aware of it and we are developing tactics to keep up with them. We have to evolve.”
This week, The Telegraph joined PS Jones and his team of officers on a 45-minute police chase of a suspected moped criminal through south London. The arrest involved 20 officers and a police helicopter.
The heavy handed police operation to target the moped gangs was set up following a spate of dry-by thefts across the capital in 2017, including on the former Chancellor George Osborne.
At its peak, the criminals drove around in a group of two or three bikes stealing up to 40 phones a day out of the hands of someone walking along the street, with each theft taking as little as six seconds.
The Met faced trouble early on in the operation when gang members began removing their helmets in a bid to try and stop the officers pursuing them due to health and safety concerns.
“Now they just keep them on because they know it doesn’t make a difference. We will still pursue them,” PS Jones added.
The force also has to deal with drivers throwing their helmets at police cars to try and smash the windscreen and the thieves trying to escape down no entry roads, which is “pretty much a no-no for police drivers”.
“We have seen a change in tactics which we have to evolve and adapt to,” PS Jones said.
The success of Operation Venice, which had led to a drop year-on-year of moped thefts, has now seen the gangs change tactics as they once again start targeting people back out on the streets of London following the end of the national lockdown.
Detective Chief Superintendent Lee Hill, who leads Operation Venice, said: “Tackling violence in all its forms is our absolute priority. We want to send a clear message to anyone who thinks it’s OK to steal from our communities that it will not be tolerated.
“Officers will be out on motorcycles and using specialist tactics to target offenders.
“It is brilliant to see visitors back in the West End again after what has been an extremely difficult time. We want everyone to have fun and enjoy themselves. Many people have waited a long time to enjoy the area’s shops, bars, restaurants and cinemas but we want them to do so safely.
“Many of us walk around looking down at our phones and often people have other valuable items, such as headphones, on the go too. We are urging people to be more vigilant and aware of their surroundings. Please look up and look out.”