Life on bikes

Will the vigilantes win the war against bike thieves?

There has always been a war between the people who work hard to pay for and legally ride their bikes and bike thieves. That war was always conducted quietly – by taking measures to protect your bike from theft. But bikers are losing that war and the battle is spilling out onto the streets: it’s vigilantes against bike thieves. In a civilised society, there can only be one winner.

In the past year the escalation in crimes committed by the so-called ’TMAX gangs’ has been breathtaking.

Almost daily, videos appear on social media of moped riding gangs stealing bikes in broad daylight. Bike jackings used to be a rare event. Now we learn that they happen nightly against the guys delivering late night food in some areas.

The press once considered moped muggings a non-story. Now some gangs are hauling in 10-20 phones an hour and the ones caught wielding hammers against the public are making it onto the front pages.

It’s out of control

The authorities, the ones who are supposed to protect society, are seemingly impotent, castrated by rules of their own making.

The police can’t chase and even if they do accidentally catch someone the courts are doing everything they can to keep the prison population from spilling out of the barred windows. A teenage bike thief/mugger can be arrested over 80 times and still not go to jail.

Because of this, it’s understandable that there has also been a rise in vigilantism. It’s what happens when the normal structures put in place to protect us – the police and legal system – fail us.

Biker vigilantes forming against bike thieves
The note calling for vigilantes that recently appeared in the Ace Cafe.

At first, it kind of makes sense. If the police have stymied themselves so much they cannot protect the public, we have to do it ourselves, right?

Right or wrong?

There is no doubt that stories of bikers taking the law into their own hands are positive for awareness – people want to see a strong response, a response the police seem incapable of delivering.

Certain biking communities, like the couriers, feel they have few other choices.

If you look deeper, though, vigilanteism starts to make a little less sense. For a start, there is absolutely no evidence it has any impact on bike thieves’ willingness to commit crimes.

These people are on the bottom rung of society’s ladder. They come from mainly deprived sometimes generationally criminal backgrounds. They have poor educational records, few prospects and nothing much to tempt them away from a gang culture that promises them easy money, easy sex and easy access to weed and more dangerous gear.

The opportunist ones caught in video clips are mainly in their mid-teens and don’t yet have the sense to realise that few people 10 years older than them survive gang life mentally intact. The ones that do nearly always dedicate their days to finding ways to get out, because that life truly sucks.

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If you think a few tooled-up guys running ‘ops’ are going to have any impact at all, go and spend the day riding around London’s Hackney or Dagenham, Liverpool’s Knotty Ash or Kensington or Edinburgh’s, Niddrie. Please be careful if you do.

Within an hour or so you’ll have seen your first couple of guys two up on a ped. They’ll be out delivering an order (for drugs) or taking one, with another ‘ped, to go and bring back a Street Triple or GS to feed into the market for stolen bikes. By the end of the day you will have seen this quite a few times.

Then you truly appreciate the scale of what is happening (over 50,000 moped-related crimes in London last year) and why whatever action you take will just be taking a pee in their shitty ocean. You will make no difference to them.

Vigilanteism never wins, for two reasons

Leaving aside the sheer scale of what is happening in some areas of the country, there are two core reasons why vigilanteism fails.

– It will simply escalate things. If you carry a hammer, they’ll carry a knife. If you use acid, they’ll use a gun. Vigilantes, by-and-large, are not criminal themselves, so they will never have access to guns in the same way that gang-related thieves will. And it’s doubtful, thankfully, that members of the public would actually use them, unlike some bike thieves who are known to have used guns in at least two bike-jackings so far. Vigilantes will never win a war that escalates.

– It fails society. The legal system is at the heart of any modern society. We have laws to separate us from being simply organised animals. Civil society depends on laws to make it work or you soon find yourself living in an anarchic state. If members of the public take the law into their own hands it means the legal process established to protect civil society and the people that live within it has failed.

That is what the police and courts fear so much – when vigilanteism rears its head it’s an admission that their efforts to protect society aren’t working. That’s why they come down so hard on vigilantes – as hard as on criminals themselves – because they simply can’t let people take the law into their own hands. Given that the combined weight of the country’s police forces and legal apparatus is so large, that is a fight that vigilantes can never hope to win.

It’s become a joke, hasn’t it?

Let’s think about this for a moment. Have things have become so bad that a couple of groups of vigilantes, on a dozen or so bikes, are expected to sort out a situation that police forces with hundreds, sometimes thousands of heavily equipped, highly trained officers can’t do?

Will a dozen bikers sort out the situation when forces with hundreds of vehicles, advanced communication systems and criminal databases at their disposal seemingly can’t do so?

Seen in that light, a random beating up of a moped thief might be satisfying, but it’s a drop in the ocean compared to what really needs to be done.

It’s the fact that, in the scale of things, very little is being been done that is the cause of the problem. Solve that, and there’s no need for vigilantes.

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So what does the biking community need to do?

All those resources are what we pay our taxes for. Now it’s time to call on them to do what they are paid to do.

The truth is the legal and political system is currently letting bikers down. In fact, it’s been letting us down for some time.

When Commissioner Cressida Dick, the cop in charge of the country’s most hit police force spoke about the situation in a PR op recently, she came across as barely knowing the extent of the problem or for how long it’s been going on.

Even if the police were given more financial resources to deal with the issue, there are probably plenty more areas they would prefer to spend the money. Nevertheless, they now have to.

Whatever they say in press releases or TV interviews, they are not doing enough.

There are currently people running amok in our civil society. They are spraying acid in innocent victim’s faces. They are attacking members of the public in broad daylight, sometimes threatening with hammers, sometimes with the angle grinders they carry.

If the targets of their crimes were MPs or TV celebrities, would the police do everything in their power to find a swift resolution to the problem? You bet they would, because they would be put under pressure to do so.

That is where the solution lies – putting pressure on the police to act.

Every word typed by a keyboard warrior on a social media post is a missed opportunity.

Save up those words and instead tweet/email/write to your local MP, the officer in charge of your local Police Force and the Police and Crime Commissioner who oversees that force.

Get them to recognise the problem and, frankly, become a pain in their arse until they act to do something to sort it out.

Get on a demo to raise awareness. If no demo exists in your area, arrange one. A peaceful, law abiding one that gets in the media for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.

Join the pressure groups like We Ride London, UKMTP and Motorcycle Crime Prevention Community and help them raise awareness.

Whatever you do, don’t tool up and get on your bike to take the law into your own hands. You won’t win any battle from a prison cell.

Get yourself sorted:

These people already carry machetes and guns. Don’t get involved yourself, but put pressure on the people who are tooled up to deal with it, the Police, to deal with the situation properly, once and for all.

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The Author

Ian Malone

Ian Malone

Ian is the Editor and a co-founder of Biker & Bike.

He is obsessed about bikes to the point that he often starts conversations with new people by saying, "Please don't get me onto the subject of bikes. We'll be here all day."

Inevitably, the next question asked is nearly always, "What bike have you got, then?"

He owns four bikes right now:

'78 Kawasaki Z650
'97 Triumph Daytona 955i
'02 Suzuki SV650s
'09 Yamaha R1

At any one time, only two of these bikes are ever working, as you can read about on our blog.