Barcelona police prevent theft-report filings

mossos d'esquadra
mossos d’esquadra

Barcelona police are turning away theft victims who come to report the theft of their phones. Why? The victims can’t provide the stolen phones’ serial numbers (duh). In three minutes, we saw three separate victims of theft prohibited from filing official police reports.

I wish we’d surveyed the rest of the victims waiting in line. Doubtless some lost wallets full of cash, but smart phones are the hot item for thieves this year, and Barcelona Police aren’t going to let them inflate their theft statistics.

The more I dwell on this, the madder I get. These are a subset of victims, already upset, who bother to make the trek to the remote police station to file official reports. They need these reports for their insurance claims. But they don’t have access to records of their electronic devices’ serial numbers while on holiday and Barcelona Police know it.

Now, with a brand new Apple store having just opened last week, stolen-iPhone victims might be in a bit of luck if Apple will provide the information the police require. If those victims have time to go across town to the Apple store, wait for employees to access their account histories, then return to the police station. Nice vacation!

When police make it impossible to file an official theft report, they tamper with statistics. The motivation is clear: what city doesn’t want lower crime stats? What city doesn’t want to show the effectiveness of its police department?

And what city desperately needs to show lower pickpocketing statistics than Barcelona? I get it.

Three stolen-iPhone victims in three minutes. Let’s extrapolate on the conservative side and say three in ten minutes. That’s 18 an hour, or what, 200 a day? More? Fewer? Impossible to say but “a lot” would be accurate. Police translators are only on duty ten hours a day, if I remember correctly, so reports from foreigners would be concentrated during those hours. I believe 200 smart-phone theft victims showing up each day at the Mossos d’Esquadra (Barcelona’s Catalan police station) is conservative. That’s 200 reports of theft not filed. Per day.

I didn’t consider this possibility when I wrote 6,000 Thefts Per Day on Barcelona Visitors. Granted, smart phones weren’t the hot target they are today. But I knew that Barcelona Police had other methods to thwart the filing of theft reports: limited hours of available translators; bouncing victims from one police station to another, demanding they come back in a few hours… Still, numbers in the hundreds of thousands are admitted by Barcelona Police as reports successfully filed by pickpocket and bag snatch victims.

We know we can’t trust those numbers. The police admit to 9,000 violent muggings in the first ten months of 2011. That’s 30 per day. And 2,000 bag-snatches in the same period—6 per day. But how many pickpocketings? How many other thefts? And how many people bother or try to file police reports? And of those, how many succeed?

I know—I’ve got far more questions than answers. I will revisit the police station in a few weeks and report back.

© Copyright 2008-2012 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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  • Thanks for your local insight and corroboration, Rob. I wonder if handset subsidizing was stopped because of the number of thefts. Do you know?

    Kudos to the observant cop who nabbed the phone thief. I hope he was celebrated. Double kudos to the victim who persevered and got his police report filed. This should have been covered by the press.

    What’s the excuse for a police department refusing to file theft reports on such a flimsy technicality? A wallet stuffed with cash doesn’t have a serial number. And why don’t the police take the report and simply request that the serial number be called in when the victim finds it? Statistics-tampering is the only answer.

  • As a Barcelona native, this is known. Doesn’t make it any less shocking though.

    A few observations.

    1. Local mobile networks stopped subsidising mobile handset purchases this year. That means the cost of the loss for a victim and the value of the gain for the perpetrator is considerably more in 2012 than it was in 2011.

    2. There’s a new Apple shop open, as you mention, in Placa Catalunya. It’s located about 30 seconds from one of the police stations where robberies can be reported. I wonder if this will result in more cross-over traffic between the two locations?

    3. We’re seeing a trend where stolen iPhones are finding their way to Pakistan. We’ve* had a number of reports of this. People who have lost the iPhones can still track them after they have been stolen. Phones usually get shut down or exported within 48 hours of robbery. We have received reports where a victim has managed to track his/her phone down to a particular building and informed the police, but the police refuse to enter the building because they don’t know which specific apartment in the building is the apartment with the stolen iPhone inside. Hearteningly, we* did have one story on our site of a chap who had his iPhone stolen and he set off an built-in alarm on the phone that made it beep/ring a particular tone… an observant policeman overheard it, nabbed the thief and returned the phone.

    4. There was a particularly frustrating account on our website* recently of a chap who figures he was drugged (pill in drink) in a bar and was robbed on the way back to his hotel. He was a determined individual and whilst annoyed by the police trying to put him off, he was insistent on getting his report down on paper, meaning he had to go back a number of times to them. On one occasion they had him visit the hospital to get a doctor’s report of the bruises he had suffered. On another occasion they had him go to his (foreign) bank and gather all the information pertaining to attempts to extract money from his ATM card (which was stolen), and so on and so forth.

    * Oh, I run a website about robbery in Barcelona. You ought to be able to click on a link accompanying this comment. [It’s the excellent site. —Ed.]

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