BUSINESSES are backing a new police drive to cut the number of smash and grab thefts from cars and vans in Bradford city centre.

Bradford Business Improvement District (BID) is giving its full support to the launch today of a new operation to cut the rising toll of victims of this “pernicious and distressing” crime.

Operation Sawnhaven, which is also being supported by City Centre Beat (CCB), Bradford’s business crime reduction partnership, will run for two weeks targeted on the City Neighbourhood Police Team area, which recorded more than 530 theft-from-motor-vehicle offences in the 24 months before the Covid-19 lockdown.

PC Dan Stocks, who is leading the operation, said: “Up until the start of the lockdown, these thefts were increasing year on year.

“Not surprisingly, the numbers dropped off during lockdown but now that the restrictions have been eased and normality is starting to resume, offences are likely to rise again with people using cars instead of public transport to come into the city centre.

“With space at a premium, there is increased use of side roads and isolated car parks and we think persistent offenders and career criminals are likely to be making a return.”

Bradford BID manager Jonny Noble said: “Theft from cars and vans is a really pernicious and distressing crime and it also has wider implications beyond the immediate victims.

“At a time when we’re working so hard on getting Bradford back to business, the last thing shops and businesses need is for people to be put off driving to the city centre because of the fear of having their cars broken into and possessions stolen.

“Operation Sawnhaven is an excellent and well-timed drive to get across to drivers and vehicle owners that these criminals are about and increasingly active and they can do a great deal themselves to drive them out by protecting their own property.”

PC Stocks said the key aim of the operation was to reduce the number of victims by promoting awareness and educating the public in crime prevention tactics.

“Working in partnership with organisations like the BID, CCB and the Bradford District Specials and Volunteers scheme, we can go a long way towards raising the profile of this nasty and invasive crime which not only deprives people of their valuable property but also leads to expensive repair costs for damage to vehicles, especially glass,” he said.

“Thieves are much more likely to break into a vehicle if they can see something worth having inside it, be it cash, shopping bags, dashcams, sat-navs, handbags, mobile phones, tools or laptop bags.

“These passing thieves are opportunists; they’ll take anything that has value and they don’t care about the devastation they leave behind."

Officers and volunteers will initially patrol crime hotspots, leaving leaflets on vehicles warning owners of the dangers and encouraging them to place all valuables out of sight and, preferably, remove them from the car altogether, especially overnight.

If they spot valuables on display, they will try to contact the owners before they leave the scene but, if that isn’t possible, they will write to owners urging them to protect their property and make their visit to the city centre safer and more enjoyable, and alert other officers to the potential crime targets.

Bradford BID chairman Ian Ward said said: “We want visitors to Bradford city centre, shoppers, workers and tourists as well as those residents who park here, to have the best possible experience during their time here and this initiative will make a big difference in helping people to do just that by not becoming an avoidable victim of crime.”