A TWO-WEEK police operation aimed at cutting smash-and-grab thefts from cars and vans in Bradford city centre uncovered almost 60 owners who were “asking for trouble.”

Operation Sawnhaven, which was backed by the Bradford Business Improvement District (BID) and City Centre Beat (CCB) – the city’s business crime reduction partnership – leafleted 2,140 vehicles warning the owners of the dangers of leaving valuables in sight.

PC Dan Stocks, who led the City Neighbourhood Police Team in the operation, said: “We found 59 vehicles with property left on display – that’s 59 potential crimes just waiting to happen.

“Vehicle owners who behave in this careless manner are just asking for trouble and they have only themselves to blame if they suffer loss and damage as a result of their inaction.”

Letters were sent to all of the vehicle owners and some were traced and spoken to immediately to enable them to secure their vehicles and hide or remove their property.

During the operation only four thefts from vehicles occurred in the area – although in only one case was the owner at fault with her disabled badge being stolen after she left her car window open when she parked in Vicar Lane, near the Leisure Exchange.

In the other three cases, number plates, a vehicle part and an integral sat-nav unit were stolen, none of which were caused by the owners’ carelessness.

Officers also spoke to a workman who had left his tools in the back of his van with his keys in the ignition.

“We waited by the van for him to return and he was very grateful for the officer’s actions,” said PC Stocks. “I suspect he won’t do that again in a hurry!

“Overall, given the issues around COVID 19, the officers had a good response from the public and the operation seemed to work very well in the areas covered. The good thing is, this type of operation can be used anytime, anywhere, and 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.”

Operation Sawnhaven was launched after the City Neighbourhood Police Team area recorded more than 530 theft-from-motor-vehicle offences in the 24 months before the Covid-19 lockdown.

PC Stocks said: “Up until the start of the lockdown, these thefts were increasing year on year.

“Now, as people return, with parking 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 chairman Ian Ward said: “This was a really important initiative that the BID supported because of the potential impact on people’s confidence at a time when we need them to return to the city centre to help boost the local economy and keep local businesses from collapsing through lack of trade.

“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.

“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.”

PC Stocks said the operation was a great example of partnership working: “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.

“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.

“It’s vitally important to check that you’ve locked your car – even if you’ve just stopped at a petrol station and have gone to pay. Thieves can be in and out in seconds if they spot the chance.”