Police in London’s West End developed an ingenious tactic to stop a spate of luxury watch robberies. The Independent reported that over 300 victims have recently had watches stolen in the fashionable theater district, which is comparable to Midtown Manhattan. One was a notable television host who, alongside his young son, was reportedly threatened with a machete until he surrendered his timepiece. The estimated value of the stolen watches exceeds $5 million.
To put a stop to the influx of crime, undercover officers wearing luxury watches flooded the neighborhood during two separate sting operations in 2022 and 2023. So far, their plan to ensnare the robbers has worked. More than 20 criminals were busted as they attempted to relieve undercover operatives of their timepieces. They may have caught more if they’d called in Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently had to pay big bucks to hang onto his Audemars Piguet at the Munich Airport.
According to The Independent, most robberies in the West End occur in a fairly wide window between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., though they're particularly common in the hours when bars are letting out and people are expected to have their guard down. U.K. security company Calder Security Wakefield likewise notes that “most [robberies] happen during broad daylight, specifically between noon and 4 pm.”
Officers warn that thieves often try to win the trust of their victims before robbing them. The most common tactics involve trying to befriend their mark, or offering them drugs before moving to a deserted location. Their most targeted items are Swiss watches such as Rolex, Patek Philippe, Audemars, or Omega. Those brands retain a great deal of value on the second-hand market, fetching anywhere from $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In a press conference announcing the results of the operations, Ben Russell, commander of the Metropolitan Police Department's Intelligence Unit, praised the “immense professionalism and dedication” of his “courageous” officers. “They are volunteering to stand alone in dark streets in the middle of the night waiting to be robbed," he marveled. "I am immensely proud of their work."
The two operations netted 31 arrests, of which 27 people were charged and 21 convicted. 14 of those people have been sentenced to a combined total of 26 years in prison. The other cases are still pending. Russell added that the first operations saw a 28 percent reduction in watch thefts across London, while the second reduced thefts by nearly 16 percent.
“This a rare chance to give the public insight into the work done by our undercover officers," Russell said. “All the officers involved demonstrated extraordinary courage and determination to keep Londoners safe.”