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Crime in Barcelona

Petty pilfering and pickpocketing are very real and persistent problems in Barcelona with large numbers of pickpockets operating in the main tourist areas and metros stations of the city, particularly during the summer months.

It may be me, but in the time I spent living in London and other towns and cities around the UK, there was always a frisson of violence and menace around particularly as night drew in. There were always fights around pubs, outside nightclubs and the occasional fear that on a late night walk home you might be stopped and beaten up for no other reason than someone wanted a bit of a thrill to show how tough they were.

In Barcelona there is little of that sense of physical threat, either during the day or later at night as you walk home. Even in heated arguments that you see on the street, the exchange is loud and verbal with large amounts of gestures, but it seems people do not square up to each other to impose themselves physically on the other. For that reason, Barcelona feels like a safe city and is a delight to paseo at night.

thieves on Barceloneta Beach from El periodico However, it's not all good news. Barcelona does have a high level of petty crime and pilfering from pickpocketing to robbery, occasionally with menace such as a knife. Authorities would have you believe that it's no worse than other cities but from the number of incidents we've heard about directly from the victim, or seen ourselves robbery and theft are extremely widespread and much worse than anywhere else in Europe. A lot of attempts simply aren't reported and you do have to be extremely careful in busier and more touristy areas and particularly around metro stations.

We were almost a victim on our first visit as a complete family - a well-dressed woman pushed into me as I was going through the gate to catch a train to the airport. My wife noticed and saw her dipping for my wallet. She tried again as I lifted the children on to the train in the melee of people getting on, but fortunately my wife was watching and shouted 'No' at which point she and her male accomplice ran off (it seems they pick the time you are most vulnerable, and it really scared the children who didn't know what was happening).

Since then we've heard directly of pickpocketing and theft happening a lot in the city. These are direct stories of it happened yesterday, not it happened a while ago, or I knew someone who... which is why we think it is quite commonplace, particularly since these are all in 12 months. These include a flat broken into even though it was on the 6th floor, a bag snatched by someone on a motorbike, someone mugged by a man with a knife in a nearby park, someone with a wrist injury from a fall they had when chasing someone who stole a friend's purse as they were walking down the street. And these aren't just naive tourists, but people who've lived here a long time.

We've also seen thefts and attempted thefts directly. As we were playing volleyball, a couple of chicos walking down the beach picked up one of the bags lying by the side of the court. Luckily one of the players noticed and three large volleyballers went after them, but the thieves didn't run the just handed the bag and ambled casually off down the beach as if nothing had happened. Again nothing was reported and for the thieves there would be no consequences. In the UK, they'd probably have been beaten up for the attempt.

So if you are coming to BCN, do be on your guard with your belongings. Don't leave stuff lying on the beach, on the backs of chairs, in parks or anywhere else for that matter, do be careful where you carry your money and what things you have about you around the city such as cameras for instance. In particular, tourist areas such as around the Ramblas are known trouble spots. Metro stations and other areas where you are likely to be jostled or disorientated also seem prime territory. And from what we've seen you wouldn't spot someone is a thief even if she's staring you in the face.

A follow up - we were robbed in Barcelona centre

We it finally happened. Got caught at Passeig de Gracia transferring from a train to the tube. We were just going through the ticket barrier and they must have seen us getting tickets out of our pockets. All of a sudden three men ran toward the ticket barrier apparently trying to push past us which felt rude. But that wasn't what they were doing - two were pushing to create a distraction while the third was picking my pocket (which was buttoned up and in the front of my trousers). I realised almost immediately after we were through the barrier and we went back after them, but PdG is such a maze that even with a short headstart we couldn't find them.

This was on a Saturday in August - so prime tourist season. In the whole of PdG station (which is long and large), there were three security people. Two of whom were in an office, and the third was chatting to one of the station guides. The station guide seemed to care. The others couldn't give a hoot. This was 3 minutes afterwards. Acres of camera - would have spotted it immediately, but just not interested and seemed almost to be telling us that it was our fault. The balding guy who seemed to be in charge probably should be sacked.

Now, if you want to do anything, to look at the video (it was only 3 minutes after), you have to go to Sants to the transport police. Or you go Catalunya for the regulars. Not surprisingly we weren't the only ones in that day - seemed to be someone new every 10-15 minutes. According to the paper, they made 174 arrests for pickpocketing in July, on the Rambla alona - that's nearly 6 a day and that's the people they catch.

In BCN it's a problem because culprits generally get off with a fine, so they just return to the streets and do it again. In the links section, there's a very good description of the scams and methods they use here. Pity it seems to happen to so many people.

Follow up two

If the amount stolen is less than 400 Euros it counts as a petty delinquency and can only lead to a fine - some people get caught 20 times a week. Therefore if you are robbed please report the amount stolen as €500 or more so we can get these people off the streets.


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