NHW in Spain

Pickpockets in your area now!

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In response to information about pickpockets operating inTorrevieja and the surrounding areas, the police have set up a joint initiative with Neighbourhood Watch in Spain and other organisations.  One of the groups identified class themselves as professional thieves and operate in a very organised way.  Read the open letter issued by the Director General of Policía Local.

Dear Citizen,

There has recently been detected, the presence of a group of pickpockets which has been operating in Torrevieja and surrounding areas over the past few months with a persistence which is worthy of a far better cause.  This is a group made up of foreign nationals from the E.U. Consequently, their presence in Spain is not a problem and there is no obstacle to prevent their presence in Torrevieja.

We have been able to identify a group which consists of at least three offenders, one female and two males. Another man and another woman may well also be part of this group. It seems that they are totally dedicated to their profession and have even expressed, “This is our livelihood”.
Two of them, a man and a woman, tend to act together posing as a couple. They are usually accompanied by another male who remains within a short distance of them (10 / 30 metres) in order to warn against the presence of plain clothed police officers with a view to avoiding detention.
Another offender is a woman who may well work alone.

The group works with a degree of sophistication in that it combines the functions of the thieves themselves supported by the ‘look out’. In this way, they are able to exchange information and warnings of police activity through the making of gestures, stopping at shop windows, pretending to carry out orientations as to their location, stopping at pedestrian crossings etc.. The stop at a shop window is often used to permit a potential victim to pass in front of them, making the potential victim an easier target. The group is able to change their appearances by altering hair styles, changes of clothing etc.

The couple mentioned could well be described as having the appearance of Nordic tourists, both aged between 20 and 25 years, both with blonde hair, the male with short hair and the female with medium length, straight hair. He is around 1,75 – 1,80metres tall whilst she is around 1,60, he of athletic build, she of average build. Both offenders usually wear summer clothing (light shirt, shorts, sun hat etc.) and sometimes carry shoulder bags. The man supporting them as ‘look out’ is aged between 40 and 45 years with dark complexion, black hair, 1,75 m in height. The other woman, who mostly works alone, is aged between 25 and 30 years, around 1,65m tall, with long black hair which is often tied in a ponytail and a dark complexion. She usually carries with her a clipboard or papers which are used as an aid to distraction of the victims (searching for a particular street or address, a bogus collection for an alleged charity etc). All are able to change their appearances by colouring or cutting their hair and changing their mode of dress.  Needless to say, these are not the only pickpockets who operate in our area. There are others, many of whom are known to the police and the Guardia Civil.

The general ‘modus operandi’ is to distract the victim whilst a second or third member of the group steals from their purse, handbag, pocket etc. They can be very creative in their means of distraction: asking for directions, soliciting cash for a fictitious charity, soliciting assistance in picking up objects which they have dropped on the footpath etc.

CAUTION!!! Whenever an event occurs around us which claims our attention – BE ALERT!!! Take in your surroundings, especially noting the presence of others at the scene. BE AWARE of personal belongings and ALWAYS ensure that the environment is ‘CLEAN’. Maintain CONTROL.

With regards to police action against pickpockets, the law in Spain makes it very difficult for the security forces to deal with the problem in that their actions are organized, difficult to identify and, above all, considered under law not to be a serious offence all the while the amount stolen is under the 400€ ‘limit’ (above which the offence becomes more serious). In many cases, the absence of a ‘denuncia’ makes it impossible for these matters to be coordinated, followed up or investigated.

I am of the opinion that the best way to combat these groups is with a joint initiative between the security services and the public, making the ‘work’ of the pickpockets so difficult that they move on to other areas.  In order to achieve this, there is a need for substantial public awareness, in particular awareness amongst those who are most likely to become ‘targets / victims’. A knowledge of the methods used by these groups, a description (where available) of possible offenders as well as constant vigilance and awareness by the public will inevitably make the work of these thieves more difficult. They should be made to feel that the constant awareness of the public accompanied by the vigilance of the police makes their efforts so difficult that they consider moving on to areas where there are easier pickings.

I suggest: that as soon as the presence of these thieves is detected in a certain location that the following action is taken:

(a)Immediately inform the Policia Local or the Guardia Civil of the presence of ‘suspected’ pickpockets facilitating concrete details including those which would lead to their identification (description of persons concerned, clothing, age and sex, anything which will aid their identification. Obviously, prudence is required in the methods of informing the security services ensuring that they are not inundated with calls relating to the same incident / warning or that valuable resources are used unnecessarily.

(b)Circulate this information through the existing Neighbourhood Watch schemes in and around the Torrevieja area and to a wider public as is possible so that these groups of thieves can be identified by as many people as possible, that the public in general can be more aware of being ‘on their guard’ and that crime prevention advice is offered to a wider audience as possible.

It is important to point out that this circulation in no way intends to make any formal accusations against any individual or individuals. The clear object is to forewarn the public of such activities with a view to making the work of these offender so difficult that they eventually feel inhibited to such an extent that they consider leaving the streets of our town. Both patience and tenacity are required by us, the security services and the public in order to achieve our joint objectives.

I hope that, with the cooperation of all of us, that this ‘problem’ can be resolved as soon as possible. In no way do we intend to create social alarm or to magnify the importance of this mater. On the contrary, the intention of this circulation is to maintain the public informed and aware, to be generally vigilant (as with any matter relating to security) and with the aim of bringing an end to such anti-social activities as quickly as possible.

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