Plain clothes police officers will target pickpockets and handbag thieves in an operation starting in Brighton this week.
Sussex Police said that Operation Tea Leaf would tackle thieves stealing from people in cafés, restaurants, pubs and clubs.
Officers intend to focus on crime hotspots.
Inspector Gareth Davies said: “As the weather warms up our beaches, pubs and clubs get far busier, providing pickpockets with the perfect opportunity to strike.
“However, this spring thieves should think twice before rifling through bags and lifting phones: that might be a plain clothed officer they’re targeting.
“During the day cafés and shops are targeted and at night licensed premises and concert venues, which have a particular problem with mobile phone thefts.
“This is a distressing crime for victims, as it often means a thief has accessed personal items.
“There is the added inconvenience of having to cancel credit cards, mobile phones and change locks at home.”
Part of Operation Tea Leaf will focus on gathering intelligence about the criminals, to find out if crimes are organised and whether economic factors are behind the thefts.
Lisa Peretta from the Business Crime Reduction Partnership said: “Once we have identified the most prolific offenders we will be pushing their photos out to the business community so they are in the know.”
Police are urging people to properly keep hold of their possessions in public to avoid being an easy target.
Inspector Davies said: “As much as this is an easy crime to commit, it is just as easily preventable. Keep all bags, purses, phones and wallets secure at all times. Be mindful of where you keep your mobile phone on you, consider inside pockets. In many cases, bags have been left unzipped on the backs of chairs in cafes and bars, and even in supermarket trolleys, making it easy for thieves to ‘dip’ in and steal valuables. Don’t leave bags unattended whilst browsing and don’t carry large amounts of cash with you – you don’t know who is looking. Remember, it only takes a split second for an opportunistic thief to strike.”
Members of the public are being encouraged to register their phones on www.immobilise.com which helps police reunite recovered property with its rightful owner.