The Metropolitan Police in London has employed undercover “victim” officers to apprehend robbers attempting to steal luxury watches in central London. Two operations conducted in 2022 and 2023 resulted in a reduction in watch robberies in and around Westminster. The initiative followed the theft of 300 luxury watches valued at £4 million between April and September 2022. During the undercover operations, officers posing as potential targets wearing expensive watch brands were targeted by opportunistic criminals. The operations led to 21 convictions to date, with 27 men charged with offenses.
The undercover officers were deployed across South Kensington, Chelsea, Soho, and Mayfair, and their presence thwarted attempts to rob the watches, leading to the apprehension of criminals. The robbers, typically in their 20s and 30s, targeted victims waiting outside bars and clubs between 23:00 and 04:00 on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. They often approached victims, offering access to sex workers or drugs before carrying out the robbery. The targeted watches were luxury Swiss brands like Rolex and Patek Philippe, known for their high second-hand market value.
Over the past five years, 29,000 watches have been reported stolen to the Metropolitan Police, with one in five of those thefts involving violence. The Watch Register, a global database of lost and stolen watches, highlighted London as a hotspot for such crimes, especially in the past three years, citing a serious increase in watch-related crimes since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The operations resulted in a notable reduction in watch robberies, with a 28% decrease during the first operation and a 16% decrease in the second operation across three boroughs.
The force has charged 27 men following the undercover operations, with 21 convictions and 14 receiving custodial sentences. The initiative aims to prevent crime in specific locations precisely. While the police advise people to remain vigilant, they do not discourage wearing watches but recommend being aware of surroundings, having insurance, and taking photographs of possessions. A recent incident involved a gang of four robbers awaiting sentencing at the Old Bailey after a man was killed for his fake designer watch in May 2022. The victim, Emmanuel Odunlami, was stabbed to death in the City of London while wearing a Patek Philippe Nautilus watch.