Thursday, May 16, 2013

France: Police in Paris to Deploy More Patrols Designed to Discourage Pickpockets, Scam Artists

According to http://www.watoday.com.au, Paris police have announced that they will be deploying more officers to protect tourists against pickpockets and launch an awareness campaign to combat bogus charity organizations that target visitors.

The announcement follows a series of incidents throughout the French capital in the wake of a series of criminal incidents of late stemming from a convergence of aggressive pickpockets and scams being pulled on tourists from bogus charitable organizations.

Additionally, in recent weeks, The Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Champs Elysees shopping strip and the Montmartre district have all been targeted by disruptive street criminals.

COMMENT: For those who have never visited France, please know that this is not a country with a low-risk of crime. Admittedly, most crime against tourists is non-violent, but having mobile phones, digital camera, wallets, purses, passports and cash stolen can seriously disrupt busy schedules.

It would have been far better for Paris police to not announce that they were deploying more officers to targeted areas, so as to surprise many criminals. On the other hand, there is an understandable political advantage to the police in announcing saturated patrols.

Leaflets in both English and French will also be distributed in tourist areas warning travelers  against a trend that involves young criminals asking visitors to make donations to false charities or to sign false petitions, distracting them from pickpockets.

In March, some 23 Chinese visitors who had just arrived in Paris were robbed en-mass in a restaurant shortly after arrived from abroad. Their passports, plane tickets and cash were all stolen.

Paris's image was dealt another blow this week by violence during a trophy parade to mark football club Paris Saint-Germain's first French League win in 19 years. The violence on Monday saw unruly PSG fans run riot near the Eiffel Tower, throwing smoke bombs, damaging bars and restaurants and attacking several tourists.

A French court on Wednesday (May 15) sentenced the ringleader of a gang that forced young girls, mainly from Bosnia, into picking pockets on the Paris Metro to seven years in prison. Bosnian native Fehim Hamidovic, 60, was charged with running a widespread and elaborate pickpocketing operation, with police saying that at one time the gang was responsible for up to 75% of thefts on the Metro, Paris's underground rail network.  

The girls used by Hamidovic were ordered to bring in at least 300 euros ($385) per day. If they failed, they were abused and tortured, including being burned with lighted cigarettes. Although the gang was neutralized in 2010, it is estimated that the gang stole an estimated 1.3 million euros in Paris in 2009, much of it from unsuspecting tourists.

Needless to say, tourists and travelers need to be very cautious if they are approached by strangers on Paris streets, and in fact should continue to walk rather than being lured into a multitude of scams.

Visitors should also use money belts, zippered socks and under-clothing devices to conceal valuables and passports, as most incidents of larceny are the product of surreptitious and preoccupation techniques. 

Laptop and mobile phone theft is also very common, thus it is suggested that travelers stay in reputable hotels where such valuables can be safeguarded. Selecting very inexpensive accommodations is a recipe for disaster. Travelers with expensive smart-phones should be particularly cautious in using their phones in public.

All tourists should expect to be targeted by criminals in Paris, which mandates that all travelers have a strong sense of personal security awareness and to have a healthy suspicion of strangers. In so doing, there is a very good chance your trip will be incident-free.