The mugger, mugged (3)

With a description of how thieves work Barcelona’s metro station platforms.

In reminiscence of this little failure, and following the fine example set by this Glaswegian tourist, but not that of the Barceloneta vigilantes who beat a couple of bag snatchers to death a couple of years ago, last night I clobbered a Maghrebi as he was trying to snatch the bag of a young local lad (an unusual combination) boarding the red metro line at Barcelona’s Estación del Norte. The procedure I’ve seen most:

  1. A pair of thieves wait one and a half carriage lengths down from the platform entrance and observe passengers who enter the platform without moving down. This area is typically the most crowded and contains the highest percentage of tourists and people with limited mobility. Potential victims are meanwhile focused on each other, the advertising on the wall opposite, and suspended screen announcements, and, although they may have briefly examined their vicinity, they have no idea that they are being watched.
  2. When the train comes in one of the thieves moves towards the entrance, and, instead of competing to board, circles behind the passengers, checking bags and back pockets. His accomplice trails him by half a carriage length.
  3. As the last passengers start to get on and the door alert is sounding, the principal thief, on exaggerated cartoon tiptoe, attempts to insert his hand in the most promising trailing bag or pocket.
  4. Whether the crime is successful or not, victims almost always flee into the carriage, leaving the thieves secure on the platform. Many victims initially believe that the fact that they have felt something means that they will have escaped robbery. They are often wrong.
  5. If the victim notices that he has been robbed and, instead of getting onto the train, goes in pursuit, the principal thief runs past his accomplice, handing him whatever he has stolen, and continue down the platform. If the doors are still open, his accomplice boards the previous carriage to avoid his being detected by the victim’s friends; if the doors have already closed, he exits in the opposite direction to the chase.
  6. It is most unlikely that members of the public will attempt to prevent a robbery, and fairly unlikely that they will even offer retrospective sympathy or assistance. Looking the other way is a common tactic.
  7. Train drivers see the robberies through their flip-out rear view mirror as the doors close but are unable to help.
  8. The private sector vigilantes hired by the transport authority are engaged in a micro civil war with the squatters, but that’s not much help.
  9. The police, when not actually collaborating with thieves, claim that the law makes it difficult for them to act. Although they occasionally generate spectacular headlines, there are very few meaningful convictions.
  10. The local authorities appear to unwilling to confront the reality that some easily identifiable sections of the population are vastly more disposed to commit street crime than others, and as was the case with the Dutch (see for example the excellent recent report by Brons, Hilhorst and Willemsen on the challenges of dealing with Moroccan juvenile delinquents) one suspects that it will be a very long time before anyone in power contemplates saying publicly what is wrong and that action is required. I’m not being macho–the thought is absurd–or doing a Wilders, just stating the bleeding obvious.
  11. Enjoy your stay in Barcelona!

Other techniques you’ll see in Barcelona metro stations include the squirt-on distract and mobbing on moving staircases. More on this kind of thing over at Tom, -ga and Don Colin.

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