Pickpocket PC warning to thieves as shops reopen
An officer who’s been the nemesis of pickpockets for 10 years has warned he’s hungry as ever to catch crooks who prey on shoppers and city centre visitors.
And PC Mat Evans has vowed to be back on the hunt for thieves should they re-appear in Birmingham city centre now that shops have reopened as lockdown restrictions are eased.
Mat has been a Birmingham PC for 23 years but for the last decade has devoted much of his work to tackling pickpocket gangs who plague town and city centres across the UK.
He’s put countless crooks behind bars and has been the driving force behind an operation that sees police forces the length and breadth of the country share intelligence on offenders, emerging crime trends and new tactics used by thieves.
It resulted in the number of pickpocket type offences falling by almost a quarter in the city centre between 2013 and the end of 2019 – and he’s already seen success in 2021 despite the lockdown.
“Pickpockets prey on the elderly and often lone parents who are distracted with young children,” said the 41-year-old.
“Between 2009 and 2011 we saw a huge increase in pickpocketing, sleight of hand, and distraction style thefts. In some beat areas it was up by more than 1,000 per cent.
“I became part of a plain clothes team to tackle the problem. We mixed good old fashioned detective work with mingling amongst shoppers by day, and revellers by night to catch the criminals in the act.
“We found these weren’t lone operators but organised crime gangs, operating in pairs or small groups. They were highly trained and professional in what they did. And we found the same suspects were coming to police attention all over the UK.”
PC Evans built up a network of contacts in police forces across the UK to launch Operation Share. It did exactly as the name suggests: sharing information on transient pickpocket gangs who tried to avoid detection by touring the country’s shopping centres.
In the first three months of this year Op Share has directly led to the identification of 26 suspected thieves wanted for multiple offences across the UK.
He’s also in regular contact with law enforcement agencies and specialist pickpocket units in Europe and North America.
And last week (13 April), a pickpocket gang identified through Op Share were jailed having admitted shoplifting high-value items from 81 supermarkets across the UK, including the West Midlands, Cardiff and Scotland.
They included a 36-year-old man living in Handsworth who was jailed for 42 months.
Mat added: “It’s been hugely successful and led to hundreds of suspects being identified and linked to offences across the country that are likely to otherwise have gone undetected.
“One notable recent success came on the back of a new crime type that emerged in 2018 where gangs who intimidate phone shop staff, jump on display counters and steal handsets.
“We were seeing the trend in other city centres but through Op Share we were able to identify and link suspects, including one group of seven we suspect are linked to 35 offences. They are due in court later this year.”
Pickpocket offences have fallen during the pandemic and the ‘stay at home’ directive but Mat expects thieves will re-emerge now that shops have opened their doors.
He’s urged city centre visitors to help combat the scourge of street thieves by remaining vigilant and keeping their valuables safe.
He added: “Much of it is common sense but too often I see people making it easier for thieves.
“Avoid putting phones in loose pockets, coats or hoodies – tighter pockets are harder for stray hands to access – and don’t put handbags on pushchairs as swiping those is a favourite tactic.
“Be wary of people approaching you in the street after you’ve withdrawn cash or made a purchase. Often offenders will claim to be collecting ‘sponsorship’ for a charity but it’s just an excuse to get close and potentially pick your pocket.
“And another common tactic is the jewellery swap scam. Offenders tend to target the elderly who are wearing gold jewellery and approach them with a ‘gift’ of a necklace. It will be cheap metal or painted plastic – but in the confusion they will remove the victim’s valuable jewellery and leave them with the fake.
“If anyone sees any suspicious activity then call us so we can get there quickly while they’re still on the scene.”