While the overall crime profile for London has remained fairly static for several years now, even falling for certain types of activity, there are unfortunately two areas where criminal activity has gone way out of control. Most people are aware of the scary increase in knife-related crimes of late, but there is another equally sinister activity which has ballooned even faster - with 11,000 incidents recorded last year in London and still growing. Including 20 incidents in just a single square mile of Bloomsbury - in the streets around the British Museum - for the first week of May alone. (per this Evening Standard article)
This activity usually involves small gangs on scooters / mopeds and even regular bicycles. They ride alongside pavements, and have no qualms about riding on the pavements themselves - knocking down and injuring pedestrians - with a view to stealing anything of value - mobile devices, wallets, watches and handbags.
The most common activity is the simple phone snatch - most usually carried out on a scooter - where the driver / passenger will zip up alongside unsuspecting pedestrians and grab the phone and be off before the victim even realises what is happening. These incidents are over so quickly that it is almost impossible to react when they happen - unless you are fully alert and totally aware of your circumstances - which mostly does not seem to be the case. A huge proportion of victims are tourists - unfamiliar with most areas of London, and not prepared in any way for how to handle such scenarios. Little seems to have been done by the hotels and tourism authorities to warn people of what is happening all around them.
Friends and family have been impacted by these crimes, some pretty recently, and in areas previously thought to be entirely ’safe’. Yet the latest incident reports and statistics show that no areas of London are really safe from these kinds of activities - they are happening everywhere, including all the precious tourist areas of London - right along the West End - from Park Lane, to Oxford Street, and Regent Street - outside BBC broadcasting house - through Marylebone, Mayfair, Fitzrovia, Soho, Bloomsbury and Covent Garden. And while a lot of these happen in the twilight hours of very early morning, many are now occurring during daylight hours too - and through the afternoon - a recent incident happening on the junction between M&S and Selfridges on Oxford Street - at 3 pm no less!
Most of these crimes are carried out by ’crews’ of 2-3 bikes. The riders will be wearing helmets and / or smog masks / scarves with dark nondescript clothing and if on scooters - the number plates will typically be obscured or blackened-out, or may be missing entirely. You will often see two riders to a bike - where the passenger does most of the snatching or may even be armed with a hammer or axe or other threatening weapon/s.
Often the perpetrators will quite closely resemble couriers - with despatch bags at their side. If you have your wits about you - you should be able to discern criminals from real couriers - the latter will be looking for road signs and junctions typically and keeping their focus on the road until their likely destination, while the criminals will be regularly scanning pedestrians looking for likely victims.
Mostly you should be on the look-out for two guys on a scooter wearing dark clothing and with their faces partially or fully covered. Also look out for bike couriers in strange parts of town or on unorthodox routes - i.e. most bicycle couriers go business-to-business and if you are in a heavily residential area and see a shady courier type cyclist - they are likely up to no good.
Keep it low-key - leave your flashy watch at home, and keep your wallet and mobile under wraps at all times - don’t look overtly ostentatious. Use a headset for receiving calls - do not regularly glance at your handset. If you must use your phone - ensure you are as far away from the kerb as possible and with the phone in the hand farthest away from the kerb too (try to keep close to the body also - and grip with both hands if possible). Ideally stick to busy pedestrian routes where you are surrounded by fellow commuters and tourists, and know your escape routes if you have to run - nearest public area, hotel, restaurant etc.
These bandits frequently mount the pavement and may come at you from either or both directions - with the intention to knock you down and injure you if necessary to serve their purpose. Be aware of pavement furnishings - benches, lamp posts, rubbish bins and the like which you can use as temporary shields from a wheeled attack.
Until the police have these kinds of incidents more under control try to restrict your pedestrian journeys to pedestrian-only routes as much as you can, and certainly stay away from less-populated areas. Follow the crowds as much as you can and ideally keep away from the kerb at all times - until you need to cross over of course. Lots of areas are known to have high CCTV coverage - yet while these bandits are masked and bike IDs concealed - it won’t really help.
Call Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111
This has a lot to do with how alert you are to the situation - if you find that you have strayed from the crowds and are being stalked - you should look to get back into normal population or back to a busy street as quickly as you can. Be prepared to run - and wear suitable shoes and attire for that purpose.
Scream loudly and shout for help as soon as an incident befalls you - it’s not usually worth running after the perpetrators on your own - as there are usually more of them than you and they may be armed with knives etc. - so if you have not been fully alert or unfortunate in other ways you may have to cut your losses to a degree. Also beware that fellow pedestrians will not always acknowledge your distress or calls for help - although females are more likely to elicit a response. Try not to endanger yourself or your fellow pedestrians unnecessarily - but if there are large numbers around you, you may be able to achieve something.
Always report the crime to the police or Crime Stopper as per above phone number - they have to do something eventually, perhaps not for that exact incident but very soon - as the full weight of public opinion will demand action. It is frequently more difficult to describe the perpetrators as they are usually masked and concealed - so concentrate on the details of the bike/s - these are mostly stolen, but may have identifying marks / details which can help police with their enquiries.
The Police have pretty much made this open season for the criminals by stating that they are not prepared to give chase - because of potential public safety issues! This confessed amnesty has meant that these sorts of criminals are totally out of control at the moment with an almost open offer of an unimpeded getaway. In fact the police have through total idiocy and through their public statements encouraged these sorts of incidents to escalate. The criminals feel that they are untouchable and that the police are not going to pursue them!!!
Most of London has become a ghost town for pedestrian police officers - i.e. the commonal and communal beat bobby - I occasionally see some near Leicester Square, but mostly only in Hyde Park sneaking off for an ice cream on warm sunny days.
Police officers seem to have become increasingly invisible of late, and the unwillingness to take on this fast worsening situation is ruining London for natives and tourists alike. My friends and family have increasingly witnessed acts of lawlessness within the most precious parts of London - it just seems that no one cares at the moment. Do we need some sort of mercenary security services, gated areas, vigilantism or some form of community policing by members of the public / authorized gangs of citizens?
What is clear is that currently London is increasingly becoming a hostile and unfriendly environment and we are all suffering ... I encourage all of you to speak to your MP / Councillor / Police Association Rep. etc. we really need a proper taskforce on this and we need it now...