Number plate thefts in North Wales have almost halved, the RAC has been told.
The total number of reported thefts of vehicle number plates in England and Wales fell between 2010 and 2014, although a small number of forces reported significant rises, says the RAC.
Twenty six of the 34 police forces that responded to a Freedom of Information request by the RAC recorded a fall in number plate thefts between 2010 and 2014, although results differ wildly between areas. Warwickshire Police is leading the way with an 80% reduction in thefts, from 404 reported in 2010 to just 82 in 2014.
Cheshire Police (55% reduction) and Surrey Police (50%) recorded the second and third biggest reductions respectively.
North Wales Police has seen a 44% decline in stolen number plates, Dyfed Powis police recorded a drop of 2.9% but South Wales Police did not supply any figures, although half the Welsh population is in its area.
However, the data also shows there remains a handful of forces that might be losing the battle against number plate theft. West Midlands Police saw a 38% rise in thefts, recording 4,543 instances in 2014 – which is 70% more occurrences than the next busiest force. Derbyshire Police meanwhile recorded a 34% increase (470 instances, up from 351), and North Yorkshire Police an 18% increase (104 instances, up from 88).
Number plates are stolen for a variety of reasons, and their theft can be an indicator of other criminal activities. Criminals will fix stolen plates to another car of the same make and model to make it appear genuine, and then effectively drive with impunity – ignoring speed cameras, parking and congestion charges, and leaving fuel forecourts without paying.
Overall, the highest number of reported thefts in 2014 were predictably in busy urban force areas – with West Midlands Police followed by Greater Manchester Police (2,629, a fall of 9.5% on 2010), Merseyside Police (1,322, a fall of 8.8%) and Thames Valley Police (1,291, a 46% reduction).
The RAC also asked police forces for details on car identity cloning – where fake number plates are made up and then fixed to stolen vehicles – but data was much less widely available: of the 34 forces, only six held figures meaning it is much harder to understand the true extent of this problem.
RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams said, “When it comes to number plate theft, this data paints a largely positive picture with some big reductions in crimes recorded across many police forces. The DVLA took action on the issue in 2003, requiring identity confirmation and proof of entitlement from the motorist getting plates made and it appears this has borne fruit.
“There are however some notable exceptions, with West Midlands Police in particular highlighting a worrying rise in the number of recorded thefts between 2010 and 2014, – while neighbouring force Warwickshire Police recorded the largest fall in thefts.
“The RAC is concerned that much less information appears to be being collected by forces on car identity cloning – where one vehicle’s identity, including number plate details, are transposed to another, likely stolen vehicle. There is very little an innocent motorist can do to stop this activity. We would like to see a commitment from forces to rigorously collect data on car cloning, so that we can all understand the scale of the problem.”