Picture this: You’re on your way home after a long day at work, messaging your friend, absent-mindedly exchanging texts about something or other.
Then, out of left field, a masked moped rider speeds past you, narrowly avoiding knocking you over. In the following seconds, after the instantaneous panic subsides, you realise you’re without your bag or your phone. You’ve been mugged in broad daylight and the assailant is speeding off into the distance with his or her swag.
It’s not an uncommon tale. An epidemic of ‘moped muggings’ is rampaging through our streets.
Riders on bikes, mopeds and even motorbikes have been caught on CCTV brazenly snatching innocent bystanders’ phones right out of their hands.
There has been a 1,150 per cent increase in this sort of crime in the past year alone, with 372 incidences in 2011 soaring to 4,637 in the past 12 months. Sadly, the true figure is likely to be far higher, as many victims do not bother to report the crime out of embarrassment.
Who can blame them? One unsympathetic YouTube commentator wrote:
Shocked after having [a] mobile phone stolen. What do you expect by waving £500 around? Headphones in ears – whatever happened to situational awareness – we live in a land of zombies oblivious to the wider world. No sympathy, sorry.
Since 2015, the London Borough of Islington has seen a particularly stratospheric increase in these crimes, causing the London Evening Standard to investigate.
Reporters rode along with local police who are trying to raise the public’s awareness of moped muggings.
DCI Steve Heatley of Islington MPS explained:
They actually rehearse this. It’s sort of like a magic trick. They are very, very good at it.
If you’re walking down the road on a phone, unaware of what’s around you…the phone could be gone within ten seconds.
The government set up an initiative – Operation Venice – to crack down on mobile crime but as yet it’s had little impact. And the reason why is pretty concerning – police aren’t willing to risk their lives and careers in high-speed chases for the sake of a stolen mobile phone.
In 2014, 18-year-old Henry Hicks, who was found carrying multiple mobile phones and seven bags of skunk cannabis, tragically died when his moped swerved at a junction during an unauthorised high-speed police chase.
Henry’s death left the community in mourning and the public outcry shook local police.
An anonymous police officer told the Daily Mail:
Those who chased Henry Hicks are facing disciplinary action and dismissal.
No one wants to risk this happening to them so we are no longer following people fleeing on mopeds or motorbikes.
These attitudes are now entrenched across British law enforcement and police have since been told not to chase a suspect if they aren’t wearing a helmet, according to pursuit guidelines.
While the safety of all citizens is of the utmost importance, the rise in moped muggings suggests that criminals are taking advantage of this ‘loophole’.
Moped muggings are a nationwide problem. I can tell you that with absolute confidence. I was targeted by a moped mugger in Manchester city centre.
I was texting as I stood at a set of traffic lights across the road from my home. Suddenly I felt a hard knock to my shoulder as a motorbike ridden by two men wearing black masks careened past me.
I thought I’d been accidentally hit and it was only after a few moments that I realised they’d stolen my phone right out of my hands.
You might say I was naive to brandish my phone on the street. You’d be right.
You might say I should’ve had my phone in a more secure grasp. You’d be right about that too.
But the fact remains, I was shaken up and woefully unprepared for the split-second attack on myself and my property. I suspect that anyone unfortunate enough to be in this position – the wrong place at the wrong time – would probably be unprepared too.
On top of that, I can say with some authority that being robbed is alarming and upsetting – not to mention an ongoing pain in the arse – as you have to go through the annoyance of replacing passwords, bank cards, and the other trappings of modern life we find it so hard to live without.
One possible solution that has been suggested is that moped muggers are tracked using police-controlled drones, although the practicalities of this aren’t exactly clear just yet.
That could provide a solution to the soaring crime rate and may also serve as a warning to criminals who currently seem to feel like they’ve found something they can get away with unpunished.
A former emo kid who talks too much about 8Chan meme culture, the Kardashian Klan, and how her smartphone is probably killing her. Francesca is a Cardiff University Journalism Masters grad who has done words for BBC, ELLE, The Debrief, DAZED, an art magazine you’ve never heard of and a feminist zine which never went to print.