POLICE have been getting the inside track from former criminals in a bid to stop bike thieves.

Officers in Eastleigh have launched Operation Stag to reduce thefts of high-value bikes in the area, which they say has been on the rise in the last six months.

And they are turning to ex-offenders to find out the tricks of the trade.

Police believe thieves are deliberately targeting areas with bikes and the more expensive models.

They say thanks to the growing popularity of the Tour de France in recent years, residents are buying more expensive bicycles which then become targets.

In the Eastleigh area, which includes Chandler’s Ford, Boyatt Wood, Fair Oak and Horton Heath, police say since April there has been a 20 per cent increase in bike thefts, with more that half costing over £300. The most expensive was £1,800.

Increasingly, thieves who break into sheds and garages are not taking tools but bikes because they have a higher resale value, said PC Rob Thomas, who is leading the operation. “They know what their outlets are, they know how to dispose of them and this has become a business,” he added.

Police have been tackling the issue in various ways, including intelligence, some of which comes from ex-offenders.

Sgt Charlie Ilderton, of Eastleigh police, added: “The techniques used to steal and retain the bike before disposal was new to us and we only got that information from speaking to the offenders.”

Alongside this, police are monitoring bike sales online, increasing patrols on the streets, making town centre CCTV operatives aware of hot spots and spot-checking cyclists.

They are linking up with the British Transport Police because of thefts at Chandler’s Ford and Eastleigh stations and the belief that thieves are using the rail network to move stolen bikes out of Eastleigh..

Half of the bikes are taken from public places such as cycle racks.

Therefore police have been visiting and leaving leaflets on bikes to let owners know how effective their security is.

Residents can also visit the police station, in Leigh Road, to buy reduced price D-locks.

Since the scheme began last month police have security coded more than 50 bikes and more such sessions are planned.

This gives residents the chance to get their bike onto a database, making it easier for them to be identified and returned.

Officers say the operation will continue until thefts go down.

Anyone with information can call Eastleigh police on 101.