The Catalan Police highlight a decrease in thefts in Barcelona metro

Police estimate that 150 pickpockets operate daily in the Catalan capital’s underground, smart phones being the main target. The way the pickpockets target their victims has changed, no longer operating in large groups meaning that they are more “discreet and difficult to stop”. The police report that pickpockets are mainly “recurrent” and mainly come from South America, North Africa and Romania. The situation is evolving in a positive way, with crime rates in Barcelona’s metro decreasing for the second consecutive year.

CNA / Guillem Sanchez / David Tuxworth

August 31, 2012 11:44 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- For the second consecutive year, theft rates in Barcelona’s metro network decreases. However, the Catalan Police estimate that the are still 150 pickpockets operating daily in Barcelona’s metro network, which was used  by 390 million people in 2011. The pickpockets’ interest is focused on the latest generation of smart phones. “They know that people carry less cash and in effect smart phones can be more easily stolen” explained Carles Vallès, Head of Metropolitan Transport Security. They no longer work in groups of 15 to 20 people, now circulating in groups of “2 or 3” they are also more “discreet” and “difficult” to stop. The Catalan Police report that pickpockets in the metro are mainly “recurrent” and many of them come from South America, North Africa and Romania. However, the report made public this Friday is generally positive, since crime rates down in the metro network for the second consecutive year.

The Catalan Police know there are approximately 250 active pickpockets in the metro. This equates to 150 pickpockets operating on a daily basis. They are responsible for the majority of crimes taking place in the Catalan capital’s underground network. During the month of August there were 250 reports a week, 80% of them for theft. This means that every day there were 30 reported thefts of mobile phones or wallets that took place in the metro, out of the 1,065,000 people travel each day.

These criminals operating in the metro have two distinguishing features. “They act with their face uncovered, and repeatedly”, explains Carles Vallès. “It is rare to find a case involving a Spanish national, the majority come from South America, North Africa or Romania” he added. The criminals’ flexibility makes tackling the problem difficult, since they can “move around”. When a pickpocket “feels threatened” they just move to another European city. “They go to Paris or London, and then they return”, he explained. The Catalan Police have already had cases of criminals disappearing and returning later.

Restraining orders are not as helpful as expected, since judges only use them in cases of robbery with violence and intimidation, and “it’s very unusual [for pickpockets] to act in this way”. Their ‘modus operandi’ was different years ago. They used to act in groups of “15 to 20” and now they act in groups of “2 or 3”. They are “very discreet” and therefore “difficult to stop”.

Targeting smart phones

Pickpockets know that many people do not keep as much cash in their wallets. Therefore they are attracted to passengers’ smart phones that are “easily resold or put on the black market” leading to an increase in reports involving thefts of the new generation of mobile phones. Vallès recommends that passengers do not “act in an excessively ostentatious way with their mobiles on the metro”.    

The deputy inspector explained the passengers “outrage” over the problem increases everyday and their cooperation is becoming a great help. “Earlier when we arrested a pickpocket, people passed by without saying anything. Now they congratulate us”. Citizens are “more alert” and they do not remain silent if they see a theft taking place. Their collaboration is increasing and on several occasions they have been able to identify active groups because they get used to where they operate.

Less violent robberies than in other European city undergrounds

There are approximately 1.5 violent robberies each day in the metro which involve snatching the jewellery from victims’ necks and arms. Police pressure to combat the violent robberies has paid off, since this is “a very low figure” when compared to the transport networks in other cities, according to Vallès. “There are so few that we can devote time to each of these cases” he said.

This summer, a criminal who had made ten robberies was arrested after he was caught on CCTV systems which operate throughout the metro. Police have released CCTV recordings of the assaults. Eight of his victims were elderly women and the ninth was a young person on crutches. The Catalan police recommend that women do not wear too much jewellery to avoid being targeted by the jewellery snatchers.