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Rethinking catalytic thefts brings 71% crime drop for Surrey

Ditching official guidance has resulted in one force turning around catalytic converter theft.

Ignoring guidance on catalytic converter crime has led to multiple arrests by one force.

A Surrey Police team’s decision to rethink its response to the targeting of cars belonging to NHS staff during lockdown has delivered a major drop in offending.

The annual NPCC APCC summit session on best practice heard how treating the offences as a major crime and creating a partnership for the specific incidents had delivered major wins for the force.

During lockdown, cars with catalytic converters, particularly Toyota Prius models were targeted by thieves because they contain precious metals which can be collected and then sold on through scrap metal dealers.

Surrey saw a spike in offending with two hotspots that included Royal Surrey Hospital and RHS Gardens Wisley.

The official advice was for owners to park vehicles on curbs so they could not be jacked up and park in well-lit areas and call 101.

The advice to forces was that targeted overtime at hotspots would solve the problem.

DI Kate Hyder said: “The advice was wrong; parking on a curb makes it easier and our data showed offences were happening at midday. They were brazen.”

The force also believed that the offences were being carried out by a small number of people linked to organised crime gangs.

The other breakthrough came with a decision by the team to relook at how target vehicles could be identified. The thieves were using cloned vehicles.

Again, the team had been told that ANPR would be unable to help but they discovered analytics tools could identify the vehicles – and in turn the drivers.

Backed by £13,500 from the force’s Police and Crime Commisssioner, the team ran Operation Blink which included a media campaign, posters and a partnership with Toyota to raise awareness among owners.

Marker kits were also shared with owners who could be at risk.

They also developed a toolkit for trading standards teams targeting scrap metal sites.

“Our advice was also that if you hear metal being cut near a vehicle, call 999,” DI Hyder said.

The result was 13 arrests and a 71% reduction in thefts.

DI Hyder said careful analysis and effective partnership work had delivered the results.

She added: “Public awareness was important. We also learned people like free stuff so if you can use that to get into the public’s conscious, do it.”

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