A Covert Police Operation in London Has Reduced Watch Thefts by 50%. Here’s How.

The time of rampant watch thefts in the English capital may finally be coming to an end.

A covert police operation in London, which involved undercover officers flaunting high-end timepieces to lure in criminals, has helped cut luxury watch robberies by nearly half, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

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Metropolitan police officers gathered around the city’s swankiest nightclubs and restaurants, then showed off luxury watches by the likes of Rolex to pique the interest of would-be robbers. Anyone attempting to steal the wrist candy was promptly arrested by officers hiding nearby.

The two operations ran from October to December 2022 and March to October 2023, respectively. Overall, the operations resulted in 31 arrests, 27 successful charges, and 21 convictions. Furthermore, the number of annual watch robberies was halved across the three London boroughs of Westminster, Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham, dropping from 113 in July 2022 to just 55 in July 2023, according to figures from Scotland Yard.

“This was a successful operation, primarily down to the bravery of our officers who volunteered to stand alone in dark streets in the middle of the night, waiting to be robbed,” Ben Russell, the Met’s commander for intelligence, said in a statement.

The figures show that robberies usually occur in upscale neighborhoods between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Russell added that thieves typically target wealthy individuals wearing timepieces by Swiss watchmakers.

“They’re looking for any luxury watch that can be resold for a high value,” Russell said at a recent briefing. “There isn’t one particular brand that stands out—but you see the likes of Rolex, Patek Philippe … They can be worth anything from £10,000 to upwards of £100,000.”

The Met says undercover stings are just one of a wide range of measures it has employed to bear down on personal robbery offenses. It’s not just London fighting against an influx of watch thefts, either. Other major cities around the globe, including Paris and Los Angeles, have seen a massive uptick in high-end watch robberies over the past few years. In fact, more than $1.3 billion worth of luxury watches were reported missing or stolen last year alone.

So what can you do? The Met has advised owners of high-value watches to stay vigilant on the streets, wear long sleeves to cover their timepieces, and photograph their collection for insurance purposes.

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