Since 2014, London has seen an unfortunate rise in the number of violent crimes committed by young offenders on stolen mopeds with fake number plates.  The offenders are usually part of a gang and suited and booted in black with blacked out helmets to hide their identity. With two members on each scooter, they travel in groups to commit a crime and flee in multiple directions, sending law enforcement on a high-speed chase.

One crime spree lead police officers on a 90-minute high speed chase across 10 London boroughs. In 2016, two mobile phone thieves grabbed 21 devices during an hour-long snatching spree through London.   And in October 2017, 28-year-old Abdul Samad was stabbed to death after two moped criminals stole his iPhone and PIN code in Paddington.

At the start of this crime wave on wheels, riders would just snatch smartphones and watches from surprised pedestrians walking about in the streets. But in recent years, moped gang members launched more aggressive tactics by driving into high-end stores armed with machetes and robbing them in broad daylight, while threatening owners with kidnapping and acid attacks.

The growing epidemic

For police forces dealing with the moped gangs, this is a two-fold crime as scooters are stolen from areas of Outer London and then used to commit crimes in wealthy Central London neighbourhoods. 

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In 2014, the Metropolitan Police recorded over 1,000 moped-linked offences, which rose to over 4,500 in 2015. And from June 2016 to 2017 the numbers skyrocketed to over 16,000.

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Taking down the moped gangs: Operation Venice

To combat this growing crime spree, the Metropolitan Police set up Operation Venice – a specialised unit trained in extinguishing this type of crime in London. They are currently using forensic tagging spray, lightweight police motorbikes, and remote-controlled stingers to take down the moped gangs.

 “This is coming up to 50,000 crimes a year, so this is a significant issue. This is a serious crime because of the risk to everyone involved, including the riders, pedestrians and the victims of the snatch. This is completely unacceptable.” Stated Commander Julian Bennett, in charge of Operation Venice.

In November 2018, the Scotland Yard gave police officers the green light to “ram suspects off their bikes even if they are not wearing helmets”. But with tactics like these come risks, especially when members of the public attempt to intervene and stop the perpetrators.

In May 2019, fed up citizens took the law into their own hands and apprehended a moped gang member as he was cornered by local shop keepers and passers-by. However, in the same month, a 46 year old male died when he tried to stop a gang stealing his moped.

Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley and Shadow Minister for the Digital Economy, went out with Operation Venice, and stated that tackling the offenders was risky for police, drivers, pedestrians, and even the offenders with these unorthodox tactics. She also recommended that the police need better technology & equipment to deal with this threat to public safety.

“Alongside this we need better technology for the police, they’re relying on outdated systems, radios with batteries that don’t last the full shift and all response vehicles should be fitted with cameras.” – Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley

One gang down

In May 2019, one of Britain’s most professional moped gang, consisting of 12 men between the ages of 19 and 36, were arrested. Investigating officers said the gang was ‘highly forensically aware and had carried out a number of raids without leaving any DNA evidence’.

As a result, police were ‘forced to spend a year painstakingly analysing huge volumes of mobile phone data to link the defendants to the crimes. The ringleader, 32-year-old Terry Marsh, had three mobile devices and 20 different Sim cards alone’.

Thanks to extracted and analysed digital data, the gang members are currently serving their sentences behind bars for conspiracy to rob, damage and handle stolen goods. Police also said that the ‘scooter wave has halved since the 12 men were removed from the street’.

How Cellebrite is arming law enforcement with the tools to help end gang related activities

At Cellebrite, our mission is to empower agencies and investigators with smart solutions that can help solve and close cases when time is of the essence. Today’s gangs are organised and take full advantage of digital devices and platforms to communicate freely and coordinate their criminal activities.

The increased adoption of technology allows them to operate using encrypted apps such as Telegram. But with the right tools in place, law enforcement can find the digital footprint that these criminals leave behind. Read the whitepaper, “Disrupting and Dismantling Gangs with Digital Intelligence”.

Cellebrite Frontliner is part of Cellebrite’s range of Digital Intelligence solutions for use in the field. It’s an easy to use and effective mobile application that allows consent-based digital data collection by frontliners. First responders and investigators can use this simple tool to gather real-time intelligence and evidence in the field to inform next steps.

Learn more about how your agency can benefit from Cellebrite’s Digital Intelligence solutions here.

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