The theft of dirtbikes is a growing problem. We sit down with Strikeforce OHARE and talk how, who, what, where and when
BIKE THEFT | IT’S AN EPIDEMIC!
Almost every week I troll through the posts on my Facebook news feed and see some poor bloke pleading with the thieves who just stole his pride and joy to return it. More often than not the victim just wants the bike returned, with no ramifications for the crim, so long as he or she brings it back in one piece.
Dirtbike theft is becoming a major issue. In fact, so bad is the problem on Sydney’s Northern Beaches that the local police have set-up a strikeforce to combat it. Behind the strikeforce is local policeman Craig Wonders. Craig is a dirtbike rider, in fact many of the police on the Northern Beaches are.
So when I got a call from policeman and dirtbike rider Dave Darcy informing me of the work Wonders and his team were doing, I was as thrilled as any dirtbike lover to hear the boys in blue were in our corner and putting up one hell of a fight.
We are an easy target for several reasons, explained Wonders. Walking into his office on the Corso in Manly, his passion for trailriding was evident with bike posters on his wall right next to a detailed breakdown of what crime it was they were fighting that week. Craig then showed me around the strikeforce office where I met a bunch of avid ADB readers eager to crack down on dirtbike theft and see this crime stopped.
ADB: Tell us a bit about the strikeforce that has been set up to combat bike theft.
Craig Wonders: Northern Beaches local area command initiated strikeforce OHARE in February, after dirtbike theft started to run rampant. Before that detectives had been operating individually on separate cases of stolen dirtbikes.
ADB: OHARE? Sounds like an intimidating name…
CW: It’s a computer-generated name. We used to be able to pick the names for things like this but the new system is far more effective.
ADB: What is the purpose of OHARE and how many people are involved?
CW: At this stage we have four detectives, an intelligence analyst and a sergeant assigned to strikeforce OHARE. Their role is to investigate the recent thefts of predominantly trailbikes. They are also charged with investigating motor vehicle and trailer theft, of which ??? have been taken when a dirtbike was stolen. The key thing to remember is that these are planned crimes, carried out by professional criminals, they are not random.
ADB: How many dirtbikes have been stolen on the Northern Beaches in the last 12 months and what model has been targeted the most?
CW: The theft of trailbikes across Australia is a big issue and is prevalent no matter where you are. However, from time to time, we see a spike of dirtbike thefts in certain areas and the Northern Beaches is experiencing one right now. In the last 12 months we have had 39 trailbikes stolen. The area spans from Manly to Palm Beach. Of those 39 dirtbikes stolen, 21 bikes were registered and 18 unregistered.
Investigators have identified that vehicles and trailers have been stolen as well to aid in the theft of the dirtbike. They are using these vehicles to transport the dirtbikes to a hidden location. The most stolen vehicles used in the theft of a dirtbike are the Toyota Hiace and HiLux, Mitsubishi Triton, Ford Econovan and Mitsubishi Express.
ADB: Have you noticed an increase in bikes being stolen over the last 10 years?
CW: That’s hard to clarify because we didn’t have the same data on bike theft back then that we do now. However there appears to be a strong demand for stolen bikes or parts and, as a result, the offences continue to increase.
ADB: Are the thieves targeting specific dirtbikes? Are they stealing roadbikes as well?
CW: All the offences relating to dirtbike theft are happening to both registered and unregistered models. We have had occasions where roadbikes have been targeted but that is not part of this enquiry.
ADB: So where are they stealing them from?
CW: Most of the bikes being stolen are from open carports visible from the street. After that comes backyards or the sides of premises. However there have also been a number of dirtbikes stolen from locked garages where the door has been forced open, but not as many as carports and yard areas.
Bikes also have been stolen from underneath tarps and on trailers, presumably because someone is going riding the next day. On these occasions, the majority of thefts include the taking of the trailer and, at times, the theft of the victim’s car to transport the bikes out of the area. On almost every occasion the thefts occur at residential premises.
ADB: How are these bikes being targeted? Can a vigilant dirtbike owner rest easy?
CW: There is no one way we believe dirtbikes are being targeted. There is actually a bunch of different ways. The most prevalent way we believe is through bike sales websites. In many cases the offender would come out to inspect the dirtbike, and at the same time case the facility and look for any weaknesses in your fortress. Then, the offender would return at the opportune time and steal the bike. They usually return in a matter of days.
Other methods of dirtbike theft we’ve identified are through social media. Dirtbike owners are posting photos of their bikes and where they keep them online. Quite often when you post a photo to social media the phone geo tags the picture, giving potential offenders the location of the bike.
It’s not hard for a criminal to use this method to identify exactly where the bike is being stored.
Race meets are also an easy way for offenders to scout out potential dirtbikes to steal. Typically on these occasions unregistered dirtbikes are being targeted. In this case it is common for the offenders to have a specific bike they are interested in, locate that bike at a race meet and follow the bike owners home. From there they can observe where the bikes are kept.
And then finally, people will often wash their bikes in the driveway or front yard. Offenders visit hotspots regularly to see if they come across an innocent owner being careless with the security of their bike.
ADB: Wow, so even the crooks are using social media? Has the rise of social media changed the way criminals operate?
CW: It hasn’t necessarily changed the way they operate, rather opened a new avenue for criminals to easily acquire stolen goods. Similar to other
fraud offences there is now a new frontier for theft and sales of bikes, and that is social media. As social media expands, these type of offences increase.
ADB: Are these random thefts? Or are they part of a larger syndicate or organised crime group?
CW: Strikeforce OHARE is still an active investigation so we can’t elaborate on the characteristics of any individuals or groups. We are confident the strikeforce has made good progress towards infiltrating and dismantling that type of crime on the beaches.
ADB: After the dirtbikes are stolen, what happens to them then?
CW: We are not 100% clear on what is happening to the bikes, but we suspect they are being on sold or broken down for parts. The unregistered dirtbikes are easier to sell because of the lack of identification.
ADB: Is there any way to trace or track a dirtbike?
CW: Yamaha and KTM are data dotted. But this only makes it easier to identify the bike, if we actually find the bike. There is no central frame number for unregistered dirtbikes which makes our job a lot more difficult. The ownership of unregistered bikes is harder to trace.
ADB: Have you recovered any bikes? Have you bashed down any doors and busted some thieves!?
CW: In recent weeks the strikeforce has detected a number of thefts where the police have responded and the offenders have been caught leaving the scene of a break in. On those occasions a police pursuit has ensued and the police have been able to stop offenders and recover the bikes. But it would be fair to say the majority of bikes recently stolen remain outstanding. Bikes can be recovered the next day or years down the track.
ADB: Years down the track?
CW: It is not uncommon for a thief to sit on a bike until the heat dies down and then try and sell it when all is forgotten.
ADB: Are these criminals violent? Should the public be concerned?
CW: From what we’ve investigated so far there hasn’t been any reports of violence or aggression with the thefts of dirtbikes. However, home owners and dirtbike owners that believe they are being broken into should contact 000 and seek urgent assistance from their local police.
ADB: What security measures have victims used and what could be done better to prevent the thefts?
CW: Of the victims who have had bikes stolen, common weaknesses in their security are leaving their bikes on a trailer with no wheel clamps or chains and in plain sight. Others have stored their bike in a carport with a chain that can be cut by bolt cutters. Bikes are stolen in the open or under a tarp. Everything and anything you can do to prevent the bike being stolen will help.
The methods that work particularly well are alarmed garages, decent anti-theft chains or braided cables with anti-theft locks and, most importantly, the chain must be secured to a wall or floor mount. One method that has been particularly effective and is cheap is a light sensor. When the light goes on, quite often offenders will flee the scene. And of course it goes without saying, dogs are great too!
ADB: So that’s the practical methods, but what about the things we talked about earlier like social media and bike sales websites?
CW: Things bike owners can do to minimise the chances of their bikes being stolen are to disengage the geo tagging feature on their smartphone. Avoid taking pictures of where the bike is stored, particularly when a street address is visible or the geo tagging feature is on on your phone. Try and wash the bike or work on it in an area out of view of the public, even if you live in an area that is heavily trafficked.
If you’re selling your bike online arrange an inspection away from where the bikes are kept. Avoid giving the location of where the bike is stored until you are confident the potential buyer is safe.
And finally, be vigilant if you’re a club member. Quite often clubs will have a list of their members and their bikes. You don’t want this falling into the wrong hands. Talk amongst your peers and friends about security risks associated with the bike. Talk to your neighbours if you’re going away for a long period of time.
If you have any information on bike theft on your area please call crime stoppers on 1800 333 000 or go to crimestoppers.com.au
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