Pickpockets look like tourists, and it’s not by accident. Replete with water bottles, backpacks, camera, baseball caps, these “props” are intended to camouflage the pickpockets’ unscrupulous objective. If she looks much like you, a tourist, you won’t think twice when she, just another “tourist,” stands beside you. Her costume elicits trust.
We travelers make subtle, unconscious snap judgments of those around us. One person may cause no reaction, no alarm bells, while another prompts a slight step away, an extra glance, without even thinking. Why? What is it?
Pickpockets in Girona
The two women you see pictured here strolled through the German Garden in Girona, Spain, just like any other visitors. They shouldn’t have raised an eyebrow. But they turned where “BJ” and her husband turned, and they paused where BJ and her husband paused. BJ made a subliminal note of that.
Still, that apparently innocent behavior wasn’t unsettling in the least. Stopping on a lookout balcony, BJ raised her camera toward the beautiful view. It was only seconds later when her husband shouted and grabbed onto one of the women that BJ realized something was amiss. In fact, what flashed though her mind in the first instant was that her husband had saved the woman from jumping.
BJ saw her own purple/pink wallet in the thief’s hand and snatched it back. She can’t recall the woman ever being close enough to touch her, let alone having enough time to open the zipper of her purse. The nearness of these ordinary women was not a threat, not a thought, not even on her radar.
Exactly the reaction, or lack of reaction, that this sort of sneak thief depends upon.
However, they were on BJ’s husband’s radar. He’d kept half an eye on the two as they followed too quickly and stopped when he and BJ stopped. He saw the blond go into BJ’s purse.
“Hubby” held onto the thief and raised a ruckus until the women’s “thug” protector arrived, all chest-thrusting-threatening, though he was a young punk and a foot shorter than Hubby.
Pickpockets look like tourists
The photo that BJ had the presence of mind to capture is wonderful. There is shouting going on, but we don’t see it. Hubby wears an expression of shock and disbelief (I was asked to blur his face.) as he holds onto the thief and looks desperately for help. Meanwhile, the thief smiles beatifically! Her posture shows no distress, no resistance. She looks straight into the camera… relaxed! She’s in the firm grip of a shouting man whose wife she’s just stolen from, and she appears amused!
She knew how this incident would conclude. Probably, she’d been in the same position many times. “You have your stuff, so what’s the problem?” she asked. Maybe she even giggled.
But to BJ and her husband, this was a serious criminal matter. They’d caught a thief in the act, had her in a vice grip, and wanted her arrested. “We didn’t back down,” BJ said, “but what do you do with them when you’ve caught them?” There were no police around.
And there was this very aggressive thug. “Eventually there was this ‘he could have a knife’ moment so hubby let the girl go and they left,” BJ told me.
Both BJ and Hubby had taken all the appropriate safe-stowing precautions. BJ’s wallet had been zipped in and attached to her purse. The wallet contained only a little cash, her driver’s license, and one credit card that could be quickly cancelled.
BJ and her husband thought they could make a difference. They thought they could put this one trio of thieves out of business, at least for a while.
But the pickpockets walked away, smiling. For BJ and her husband, it was not a satisfying conclusion. They never did find a police officer in Girona, and those in Barcelona were uninterested.
In the beginning of our thiefhunting many years ago, Bob Arno and I thought, like BJ and Hubby, that we could make a difference by bringing video evidence to the police. We received the same reaction our brave travelers got: a laugh, a puff of air, a confirmation that yeah, the police know who they are, what they do, even where they live. But laws are loose and pickpockets make it their business to know the laws. All over Europe thieves tell us: more than anyplace, they like to work in Spain.