Barcelona pickpocket statistics
Barcelona visitors experienced 6,000 thefts per day during 2009’s tourist season.
115,055 pickpocketings and bag snatches in Barcelona were reported in the 12 months ending August 2009, police said. Newspapers did the math and trumpeted “315 thefts every day!” But take away the off-season, when thefts are way down, and add in unreported thefts to get the real number “per day.” More like a million in a year.
Barcelona authorities have finally, officially, admitted that the level of theft in the city is “extremely high.” This came only days after Barcelona made headlines around the world as “worst city for pickpockets,” thanks to TripAdvisor’s proclamation. It’s long been an open secret that otherwise lovable “bcn” has rampant thievery, but potential visitors and, more importantly, the conference business, have begun to wonder if there aren’t safer destinations. Hotels, tired of wiping the tears of robbed guests, must have been screaming for relief.
Police estimate there are 200-250 full-time thieves at large. That makes me laugh. The police, at one time, showed me their profiles of more than 300 pigeon poop pickpockets alone! “La Mancha,” the stain, is what they call them, because they dirty their victims. In my 15-year history of observing thieves in my favorite city, I find that the pigeon poop perps are but a small subsection of the thief pool. If there are 300+ pigeon poop pickpocket specialists, how many other bag snatchers and pickpockets lurk about?
Although I think 250-300 is a low estimate, it’s still a huge number of criminals who each make any number of efforts throughout the day to gather other people’s valuables. For each thief, there might be 10, 20, or 30 attempts to steal, each day. With each attempt, lots can go wrong to blow it. The victim may suspect something, and turn. He may move, though he suspected nothing. The thief may think someone is watching. Someone may be watching and shout out. The pocket or purse might be difficult to get into. the getaway may become blocked, a cop might be spotted… It’s a delicate balance; attempted thefts are derailed far more often than they’re completed. You may never have had your wallet stolen, but you may have been a target. Does that make you part of Barcelona pickpocket statistics?
And after the thief’s success? Even then, the deal’s not done. The victim may whirl around and accuse the pickpocket, who’ll then drop the goodies on the ground and pretend he had nothing to do with them. That’s a theft—but not counted in Barcelona pickpocket statistics.
The police finger North Africans and Romanians. I’ll agree that these groups are prominent among the perps, along with certain South Americans, other East Europeans, and an unmentionable group. Not that it matters to the victim. Not that visitors would know the difference.
Let’s not forget the transient thieves, either. For the past month Bob has been communicating with a pickpocket in Paris who enjoys lucrative field trips where the moolah is mucho and the heat’s not so hot. At this very moment, he’s shopping for wallets in Brussels. Next stop, BCN. “Barcelona police are easy, but there’s not much money there,” he explained. Yet, he’s making the trip. And he’s not alone.
The police claim that pickpockets try to steal less than €400 per person, because the perps know that stealing less than that will land them a fine if caught, rather than jail time. Uh-uh. No. Pickpockets steal wallets. Bagsnatchers steal purses. They don’t stop to ask how much cash the vic has. They don’t stop to look. And if they get a windfall, they don’t cry about it. “Son-of-a-bitch good,” is the feeling pickpocket Kharem described when he nabbed a briefcase filled with thousands of dollars. People who spend their days stealing expect to get caught and pay the consequences. They know it will happen. It’s part of their own pickpocket statistics. For them, the reward is worth the risk. If they get a lot of money in one hit, they can stay home and thereby cut their risk for a day or two.
And they need all that cash to pay their fines. For each theft of under €400 for which he’s arrested, the thief “pays a fine of €200 and then returns to the street,” said an official of the City police who asked for anonymity. “But they work so much that it’s worthwhile to them to keep doing it and pay the occasional €200 fine.” Some of these thieves have hundreds of arrests in their records and are released over and over again; presumably to collect cash to pay their fines. Looking at the fistful of fines Kharem showed us, this is a pretty lucrative system for the city. A stupid-tourist tax perhaps, or a licensing fee for thieves.
“315 thefts each day,” another headline reads. In August 2009, the year-to-date total was 115,055 reported thefts. But why average them over a full year? Most of the tourist activity is from May to November. Pickpocketing is easier when people are in summer clothes rather than bundled up with coats that cover pockets. I’d say most of the 115,055 reported thefts occurred in the six good-weather months. That means about 600 each day that you’re likely to be there, sharply dropping off as the weather cools and the tourists dry up.
But that’s reported thefts. In Barcelona, I’d multiply the reported thefts by a factor of 10 to get actual thefts. That brings the number up to 6,000 each day of the tourist season.
Why by a factor of 10? Lots of cruise ship passengers get a single day in BCN. I’ve personally interviewed at least 1,500 of them. When they’re robbed, they don’t have time to file a report because they have to be on their ship. They tend to be of a certain type, too: mouth-breathing obliviates with protruding wallets and gaping purses who advertise their naiveté with every particle of their beings.
And lots of carefree youth visit; when they’re robbed, and their loss is small, they just chalk it up to their carelessness and don’t bother filing. Lots of drinking in the bars and pubs, where victims just assume they lost their wallet, phone, or camera.
And lastly, for those who do attempt to file a police report, the process can be long and arduous. Bob and I have assisted or accompanied many victims through the ordeal. It can take hours. It can be daunting: waiting for one of the few police officers who can take a report in English or French or whatever, going from one police station to another. It can suck up half a day or more. It’s very tempting to give up when the police tell you to come back in two hours to complete the process. Or even at the start when the lineup to file reports is out the door. And if a tourist has lost his passport, getting a new one is the priority. He may not file a police report at all. After canceling credit cards and figuring out how to get some quick cash, the victim is exhausted.
I know something about the rate of reporting losses from speaking to thousands of travelers over the years (around the world). I’ve conducted an informal survey on how often police reports are filed. Of the hundreds of victims who tell us their sad stories each year, a minute fraction say they bothered to file a police report. They don’t want to ruin even more of their trip. They, like the police, throw up their hands and blow air.
Did you filed a police report, if you were robbed while traveling?
This new, official recognition of the problem is laudable. Now it will be interesting to watch the coming season, hear the numbers, and do the math. Will Barcelona pickpocket statistics continue to rise?
Yes, I’m postulating that only about 10% of personal thefts in Barcelona get reported to the police. But the days are long in BCN, so that’s only, say 300 an hour. In the high season.
If you read this far, you should probably also read Pickpockets, Con Artists, Scammers, and Travel.