One man loses his wallet. It’s a small crime, a small loss, a small inconvenience. Or maybe it’s a huge loss, devastating, with trickle-down repercussions.
One man steals a wallet. Usually, he steals three to six of them each day. And so may his peers, possibly hundreds in his own city. That’s a lot of wallets, a lot of money, inconvenience, and tears. Small crime, enormous problem.
Awareness works wonders.
Bob and I are on a mission. From a pro-active angle, we teach travelers what to beware of, how theft happens, and how to protect themselves. Our jurisdiction is the world: as we roam and research, we’re informed by local law enforcement, innumerable victims, and the thieves themselves.
At the end of our second interview with Luciano, he had a query for us.
“Why do you ask these questions?”
“To help tourists avoid pickpockets.”
“But,” he deadpanned, “that will make my job harder.”
We also assist law enforcement. No police department has the budget to travel and gather intelligence at street level, as we do. Trends travel, as do perpetrators. As Bob and I acquire video of street thieves and con artists from Lima to Lisbon, from Barcelona to Bombay, we put together teaching tapes and show them to law enforcement agencies worldwide. Having seen our previews, cops are better-prepared when foreign M.O.s roll into town.
Even at a local level we’re able to help police forces. Rarely — or never — does standard police-issue equipment include hidden video cameras. Bob and I, who look nothing like law enforcement, are able to get in the faces of thieves-in-action, and often provide the best, if not the only, descriptions of local criminal pests. We provided photos to the Barcelona tourist police, for example, who had received numerous reports of a devilish thief who “wore shorts.” Yep. That’s all the victims could ever describe about him. The police were ecstatic when they received our shot of his mug.
We do much of our research in summer, in the height of tourist season. We put ourselves smack where the crowds are, just as the thieves do. We carry video cameras, just as the tourists do. Then it’s a game of eyes.
The tourists gawk at the sights, common sense abandoned. The thief has head bent, eyes downcast; he’s scanning pockets and purses. Bob and I stare at the thief — but not too much. We don’t want to blow our cover.