In a quick visit to Rome last month, Bob and I found it pretty quiet on the streets, theft-wise. Granted, we only spent a few hours on the prowl, but given our 15 years experience thiefhunting in Rome, we know where to look. We usually find an eclectic mix of Italian, Roma, North African, and East European thieves, plus many we don’t speak to, many who won’t tell, and many who lie.
On this visit, we spent at least half an hour shadowing a mixed-gender threesome halfheartedly preying. As they trudged along the tourist trail, one of their members entered each souvenir shop along the way and stood among the customers. Another spent time among the postcard stands. They were an extraordinarily scruffy group, whose appearance certainly limits their access and proximity to targets. After a lethargic effort, they disbanded at a bus stop. We engaged two of them as they scattered, and learned that they were Polish.
Other than this group, we saw very few “suspects” in the Metro, on Bus 64, hanging around at the usual favorite bus stops, or on the streets. Termini, the main train station, was littered with dodgy characters, as usual, but we didn’t linger, preferring to survey the scene outside the station.
Are Italians finally fed up enough to do something about crime? At least crime committed by immigrants, it seems. A couple of telling surveys reported in The Guardian hint to a new, anti-immigrant climate in Italy, and especially anti-Gypsy.
81% of Italian respondents said they found all Gypsies, Romanian or not, “barely likeable or not likeable at all”, a greater number than the 64% who said they felt the same way about non-Gypsy Romanians.
Romanians were among the 268 immigrants rounded up in a nationwide police crackdown on prostitution and drug dealing this week, after new prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s likening of foreign criminals to “an army of evil”.
Word has been out on the street for some time. “Jaga” and Ana, a Romanian pickpocket couple we interviewed at length in Rome in 2003, told us they were planning to move to Spain, where it is easier to live and to conduct their business. They are not the only thieves to express this sentiment, which helps explain why Spain has such a preponderance of pickpockets.
Pisa, too, was empty of the sticky-fingered women and children we usually find at the train station, bus station, and all around the Piazza del Duomo. Locals there said they had noticed the pickpockets’ disappearance about a month ago.
But just when we thought Italy might be cracking down on crime, we heard last month’s terrible story of the American couple served drugged cappuccino in a Rome train station, where they were then robbed. Upon awaking, the man stumbled onto the tracks and was killed by a train. The article continues:
Gangs using narcotic spray to carry out train robberies are also on the rise in Italy, police said. The gangs board sleeper trains and drug passengers in couchettes before hopping off at stations with valuables.
I tend to think the crime lull we sensed in our short survey of Rome’s previous hot spots was actually an anomaly. Or the balloon has been squeezed and the thieves are just elsewhere. I hope that we soon find another opportunity to re-investigate Rome.
Sadly, though, porcini season will be over by our next visit. There is nothing like porcini pizza, especially in Pisa.