Pickpockets are a Dying Breed

Pickpockets in America are dying out. This is the bit I found interesting:

And perhaps most important, the centuries-old apprenticeship system underpinning organized pickpocketing has been disrupted. Pickpocketing has always perpetuated itself by having older hooks­—nicknamed “Fagins,” after the crime boss in Oliver Twist—teach younger ones the art, and then absorbing them into canons. But due to ratcheted-up law enforcement measures, including heftier sentences (in some states, a pick, defined as theft from the body of another person and charged as a felony regardless of the amount taken) and better surveillance of hot spots and known pickpockets, that system has been dismantled.

This is not the case in Europe, where pickpocketing has been less of a priority for law enforcement and where professionals from countries like Bulgaria and Romania, each with storied traditions of pickpocketing, are able to travel more freely since their acceptance into the European Union in 2007, developing their organizations and plying their trade in tourist hot spots like Barcelona, Rome, and Prague. “The good thieves in Europe are generally 22 to 35,” says Bob Arno, a criminologist and consultant who travels the world posing as a victim to stay atop the latest pickpocketing techniques and works with law enforcement agencies to help them battle the crime. “In America they are dying off, or they had been apprehended so many times that it’s easier for law enforcement to track them and catch them.”

Posted on March 3, 2011 at 6:35 AM77 Comments


Mike B March 3, 2011 6:51 AM

I always get the feeling that there are certain crimes that Europe just doesn’t care a lot about and for a system where the prisons are fitted with revolving doors, escalators and ski lifts that says a lot. I would suspect that pickpocketing is considered something of a crime against upper classes so your every day stiff figured that it is somebody elses’ problem and if you get picked it was your fault to begin with.

Also I wouldn’t be surprised if in the United States, where we have a rather trusting atmosphere, criminals are simply drawn into fraud. There is much greater reward and far less of a learning curve to commit fraud than to try to lift a wallet. In Europe everyone is very wary of people not from their own tribe and thus I think folks are less susceptible to traveling fraudsters.

BF Skinner March 3, 2011 6:57 AM

We were in Valpariso one night and got mobbed by a bunch of kids, kinda you know plucking at our clothes. Like a loud noisy pack of starlings.

At the hotel, one of guys realized they’d taken his wallet only when he went to pay for a drink. ID, credit cards, cash everything in the wallet. So he went storming down the steps. And came back about 30 seconds later.

There at the top step leading up from the street, carefully placed, was the wallet. Cash gone but ID and CC and other papers intact.

I figured they were preying on people like us and were careful about some line they wouldn’t cross. ‘Take their money, sure, but don’t make them angry enough to rile up the constables. Make it easy for them to get more money so we can take their wallets again later.’

Will March 3, 2011 6:59 AM

@Mike B

I’ve never known pick-pocketing to be considered a class thing. Maybe it varies across Europe, but its not been that where I am.

For me when I analyse my feelings about it its because its not seen as a dangerous crime that its low worry by the preyed-upon population as a whole and by the police that serve them – confrontations are not expected, violence is not expected.

BF Skinner March 3, 2011 7:00 AM

Mike B “far less of a learning curve to commit fraud”

Lazy American’s no longer care about craft and work ethic and pride of performance. Here again we’ve got jobs going overseas!

Chris March 3, 2011 7:24 AM

I’d attribute the drop Stateside to the fact that you’re much more likely to get shot in America.

handsomedave March 3, 2011 7:32 AM

Could it be that in America your target is less likely to be carrying any cash?

Adam March 3, 2011 7:41 AM

Roman Gipsys are the blight of Europe. No matter where you go you’ll find them begging around tourist spots, begging on subway systems, pickpocketing, nuisance windscreen wiping etc.

It’s too bad that they’re not routinely deported the moment they’re caught and convicted of any antisocial offence.

Christopher March 3, 2011 8:11 AM

Liberal friend of mine surprised me recently by saying he was in favor of the right to carry a gun here in the US. He travels abroad a lot and felt that there was a lot more disruption by vagrants, petty crooks, etc. to ordinary life simply because there was less of a threat of being shot by a citizen like there is here in the US. +1 for the other Chris above.

bob March 3, 2011 8:13 AM


Deported to where? Europe? Even ignoring your selfish, stereotyped, right-wing attitude: you make no sense.

Adam March 3, 2011 8:43 AM

Repatriated to Romania of course. And no I’m not right wing. Nor is my attitude stereotypical or selfish. If they break the law they should be sent packing. If they obey the law they are welcome.

Anyone who lives in major city or visited a popular a tourist spot within Europe could tell you what a constant nuisance beggars and pickpockets are.

S March 3, 2011 8:51 AM

@ bob

Deported to Rome of course, where else do you think ‘Roman Gipsys’ come from?!

On a more serious note: Adam, look up the difference between Romanian & Romany, it is rather a large one. Not that reason is usually much use when it comes to bigotry, but I can always try…

Dilbert March 3, 2011 8:53 AM


Good idea… sounds like the plan to deport illegal immigrants back to Mexico here in the U.S.

Adam March 3, 2011 9:07 AM

It’s not bigotry, it’s reality. Just google “romanian beggars” and you will find plenty of examples from all around Europe of organised gangs of beggars and the troubles they cause. They are a blight on every major city and only France appears to have had the nerve to round up the gangs and send them home.

karrde March 3, 2011 9:08 AM

As an aside, one common complaint against the American prison system is that it allows petty thieves (shoplifters/petty-theft) to ‘go to school’ with the harder criminals.

However, I haven’t heard anyone comment that it can weed out certain kinds of crime (i.e., pickpockets).

Is it the interruption of the ‘training’ by the ‘old hands’ that breaks up pickpocket rings, or is it the shift in cost/benefit ratio?

S March 3, 2011 9:17 AM

@ Adam (& I apologise to everyone else for being off topic, I’ll ignore him after this):

  1. For the second time, Romani* != Romanian
  2. Sarkozy made himself extremely unpopular with a vast amount of people by doing so, and may even have been acting contrary to EU law, depending on which legal eagles you believe
  3. It is most certainly bigotry.

*apparently this is more up to date than the spelling with a y I used in my previous post.

karrde March 3, 2011 9:20 AM

From the perspective of someone with a CCW permit, I must say that pickpocketing is almost impossible to interdict with a firearm.

I’ve never experienced being pick-pocketed, but the model that is in my mind usually involves discovery of the theft while the thief is leaving. In most parts of the U.S., there is little legal cover for firing on a fleeing thief while traveling in public.

Texas is notorious for allowing firing on a thief fleeing from an owner’s private property, but firing on a fleeing thief in a public place falls into a different category. I doubt that Texas deadly-force law allows that. (Even Policemen in the United States are officially discouraged from firing on a fleeing criminal…)

My own home state of Michigan allows lethal force to be used if a reasonable person would conclude that I am in fear for my own life (or great bodily injury, or serious sexual assault). A fleeing thief who has neither caused nor threatened injury is not a valid target for lethal force under that law.

The best individual defense against pick-pocketing is situational awareness coupled with avoidance. The next best defense is to have all valuables in an inside-the-pants money belt.

I do find it pleasant that law enforcement has made pick-pocketing a scarce profession in the U.S.

BF Skinner March 3, 2011 9:29 AM

I tend to agree with karrde.

Open carry/concealed carry and decrease in pickpockets are likely independent variables.

I’d’ve to see the numbers but my hypothesis is that most of the major population centers (Boston, NY, Chicago etc) don’t allow citizen carry but would be the place pickpockets would want to work.

Adam March 3, 2011 9:35 AM

sigh it’s not bigotry. These people are sat right there on the streets begging, setting their kids off on pickpocketing sprees. It is their way of life. They’re not going to reform. They’re not going to listen to some stern lecture about how wrong it is. Google “romanian beggars” or “romanian pickpockets” and you will see countless newspaper reports & personal accounts. If you want to be more specific, throw in a big city like Helsinki, London, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin etc. to narrow your search. You will still find plenty of hits. I’m not imagining it. People from all over Europe are not imagining it.

As for Sarkozy yes he did get a lot of liberal guilt directed at him and he saw his actions through. France is better off for it too.

As for Roma / Romanian, I’m aware they’re an ethnic group. A group that primarily originates in Romania hence the frequent use of one name instead of the other. Maybe some come from the Czech republic, Bulgaria or Hungary in which case they can produce papers and be deported there instead.

You will also note from the outset I am not suggesting deporting lawful immigrants, just the ones flagrantly violating vagrancy laws and committing other antisocial acts.

No One March 3, 2011 9:55 AM

@karrde: It could be that the perception of risk to the pickpocket makes it such an untenable idea. But, like all gun-related issues, becomes a huge mess of theories that are impossible to test… (The obvious question being, is it safer for the thief to turn from pickpocket, where there’s a chance of the victim taking control of the situation with a weapon or to be a mugger, where the thief assumes control of the situation with a weapon immediately?)

@Adam: Roma != Roman != Romani != Romanian. First, learn the differences. Second, your problem is not with Roma, Romans, Romani or Romanians. Your problem is with beggars and thieves. That they are of a particular ethnicity or nationality does not matter to you so you shouldn’t bother bringing it up. (If their ethnicity or nationality is the problem then that’s bigotry and that’s what you’re being called out on.)

Get over those two issues then try again in a relevant conversation. No one here really feels this is a relevant conversation for you to be complaining about beggars in France.

Eric March 3, 2011 10:00 AM

@Adam: since the Romani are likely citizens of the local country, what you are advocating called banishment, not deportation.

Adam March 3, 2011 10:08 AM

No, they’re not citizens of the local country in most cases. They’re immigrants. If they were citizens it wouldn’t make much sense to deport them now would it?

As for why I brought it up, perhaps it may be something to do with “This is not the case in Europe, where pickpocketing has been less of a priority for law enforcement and where professionals from countries like Bulgaria and Romania, each with storied traditions of pickpocketing, are able to travel more freely since their acceptance into the European Union in 2007, developing their organizations and plying their trade in tourist hot spots like Barcelona, Rome, and Prague. “

Alan Bostick March 3, 2011 10:26 AM

If people carry guns in an environment where pickpockets flourish, the pickpockets are more likely to be armed than pickpockets in areas where guns are not common. Do you see why?

NobodySpecial March 3, 2011 10:27 AM

@BF Skinner – “far less of a learning curve to commit fraud”

No it’s all OK. High labor cost crimes like pick pocketing are being offshored or cheap foreign workers imported to commit them.

But high value crimes – like banks – remain in the USA.

RonK March 3, 2011 11:07 AM

@ BF Skinner

‘Take their money, sure, but don’t make them angry enough to rile up the constables. Make it easy for them to get more money so we can take their wallets again later.’

I find the parallel associations this story has with parasitology fascinating.

Rookie March 3, 2011 11:13 AM

I’ve been picked once successfully (Cincinnati, USA) and twice unsuccessfully (Rio, Brasil). As a foreigner in Rio I was warned to be on guard, and it certainly was good advice.

I found the article interesting in that they attribute part of the decline of pickpocketing in the US to the stiffer sentences handed out. There are those who claim that more robust punishment does nothing to prevent crime, when it most certainly is part of the equation, as evidenced here.

I believe world-wide LEOs, while getting better at computer/Internet-related crime, are still behind the curve on the recognition/forensics/prosecution/sentencing side of the house which is a factor in the current state of affairs.

Dean March 3, 2011 11:29 AM

I’m not sure it is as complicated as we’re making it. I think its as simple as this:

Assumption: pickpockets primarily target tourists (tourists are more likely to carry cash and valuables with them).

Fact: Europe has a higher concentration of tourists in a small area than does the US (or Canada).

Conclusion: Europe is a target rich environment, and one should expect a higher incidence of pickpocketing.

Dirk Praet March 3, 2011 11:36 AM

I’m not surprised. Everything considered pickpocketing doesn’t pay off in the US: too many people carrying creditcards instead of cash, stiff sentences for repeat offenders, not to mention liberal gun laws allowing people to defend themselves. I guess it’s also much easier to buy a gun and rob someone at gunpoint instead of going through lengthy training to acquire the necessary skills to become a professional pickpocket (cfr. Indiana Jones and the swordsman). Selling dope and fraud will earn you more too.

As the article states, there is no denying that Western Europe has seen a massive influx of East European gangs and individuals alike trying to make a living off robbery, burglary and theft, most of them originating from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and former Yugoslavia. However politically incorrect as a statement, Rom(a) gypsies unfortunately are well-represented in small burglary and pickpocketing crime statistics in many big European towns. Calling out a fact is not bigotry per se. It becomes bigotry when the statement is generalised to the entire ethnic group or used as an excuse for inciting intolerance or hatred towards said group.

The article is correct in quoting different priorities in law enforcement when it comes to petty crime in Europe. For all practical purposes, and where I live, there is almost zero risk involved in pickpocketing or small-time burglary crimes, neither from the victims or from a legal angle, and failure to appropriately deal with the issue has inevitably given rise to a higher intolerance towards real or suspected offenders with the general population.

1) By law, you are allowed to protect but not defend your property. In case of theft, you cannot invoke self-defense when injuring or killing someone trying to rob you unless you can prove that your life or someone else’s was in mortal danger. You are supposed to stand by idle and inform authorities after the facts. In the other case, you will be indicted and most probably end up paying damages to this person or even facing jail. Best you can do is offering coffee when somebody is carrying your TV set and laptop out of your home.

2) A minor getting caught, even a repeat offender, risks nothing at all. Worst that can happen is being sent to a juvenile detention facility for about three months. Since these are always full, he may never even go there or be set free after a short while to make place for someone that has committed a worse offense. As from 16, a minor can be referred to a real court, but this happens rarely, and only in case of murder or particularly gruesome instances of rape and GBH. At 18, juvenile records are permanently expunged. In practice, this means that on a daily basis minors involved in grand theft auto, armed robbery and battery are back home before the arresting officers have completed their paperwork. Pickpocketing or burglary will at best get you a slap on the wrist by a juvenile court.

3) Adults have little to fear either. All prisons are full, and many are running close to 150% of capacity already, causing both regular inmate uprisings and personnel strikes. We’re even hiring additional capacity in The Netherlands. In practice, no prison sentences under 3 years and 1 day are being carried out. Recently, a rebellious judge made a firm political statement against this absurd situation by acquitting a recidivist thief under the argumentation that the state was encouraging him to go on with his activities by not carrying out his previous jail sentences. Nearly half of the inmate population is from foreign origin. Although treaties are in place with many countries to have them sit out their time in their home country, no single inmate from outside the EU has been sent back since 2005.

karrde March 3, 2011 11:45 AM

Dean: small addition to your theory.

Compare two groups of people: a population that primarily drives cars vs. a target population primarily uses the train.

Which group is more likely to see pick-pocketing?

Add in a high number of tourists (not familiar with local social patterns or criminal behavior), and we have a better explanation for the incidence of pick-pocketing.

paul March 3, 2011 12:15 PM

It’s not just the guns, it’s the violence in general that skews the learning curve.

Way easier to threaten someone, with either weapons or superior numbers, than to learn good pickpocketing skills. And in locales known to outsiders for their danger, very few will resist.

Meanwhile, there’s a fair amount of theft from adjacent to person, with people lifting bags from diners at restaurants and cafes (where they exist in the US) and from offices.

No One March 3, 2011 12:19 PM

@Alan Bostick, re. armed victims inviting armed assailants: Or the pickpocket will move to another city where gun control prevents victims from arming themselves. Like I said, it’s a complicated situation. One pickpocket may get a gun in response. Another may move to where he’s less likely to get shot for trying to steal. Another may arm himself and just mug people instead. Another may switch to B&E instead.

You can’t just say that obviously arming yourself will lead to a pickpocket arming himself since it’s not actually an obvious conclusion.

Also, here’s a good reason for a pickpocket to not arm himself: If he attempts a lift and someone points him out to a cop he may ditch the wallet but he will still be subject to a lawful detainment and search by the officer based on the eyewitness testimony at the scene. This is valid probable cause. Finding the gun on him, even in absence of a wallet, means he’s going to jail. He probably doesn’t have a CCW permit since most criminals wouldn’t pass the necessary bars to get one. That means he’s got a felony gun charge on him with a legal search yielding prima facie evidence. If he didn’t have a gun and had ditched the wallet then there’s a much better chance of the cop letting him go at the scene, having a reduced bail for a pickpocketing versus a gun charge, getting acquitted for lack of evidence, especially if the wallet isn’t found because it was ditched well or was covered in someone’s soda after being tossed in a garbage can, and generally getting away with it.

Kevin Granade March 3, 2011 12:54 PM

@No One: Consider the two phrases “Romani Pickpocket” and “Nigerian Scammer”. In both cases there is not necessarily* an implication that all of the ethnicity or nationality being referenced is a member of the group, but is used as a convenient label to refer to a type of criminal, the members of which have certain observed similarities. similarly not all “Nigerian Scammers” are from Nigeria, and not all “Romani Pickpockets” are Romani. In short, using these terms seems to me to fall far short of bigotry.

*Yes, some people do generalize in this way, but it is possible to make a distinction, and I think Adam is trying to do so.

Mike March 3, 2011 12:55 PM

Could it be that perhaps Americans prefer more personal space and act accordingly when that space is violated? This would be more difficult in a crowd in a large city, of course, but in general Americans find it disconcerting when strangers enter to with a couple of feet of us. Even when passing on a street, people here tend to maintain a respectable distance.

thiefhunter March 3, 2011 1:09 PM

Pickpocketing in the U.S. is carried out differently than in the rest of the world. More than “hot spots” or cities with a big pickpocket problem, the professionals work “on the road,” traveling to big events around the country. They favor important fights and sporting matches, big concerts, and major political rallies. They work these events by getting into town a week before the big day. They want tickets, especially to Super Bowls, which they may scalp or, more likely, use to get into the event where the action is, where attendees are drinking and betting, relaxed with pocketsful of cash. As to Europe and the situation there, see, as an example, “6,ooo thefts per day on Barcelona visitors” http://bobarno.com/thiefhunters/2009/11/barcelona-pickpocket-problem/

NobodySpecial March 3, 2011 1:34 PM

Doesn’t the chance of victims having guns shift the strategy toward pickpockets?

A pickpocket (ideally) isn’t detected and even if they are – since they aren’t violent they are unlikely to be shot out of hand.

The common alternative in the report is to snatch an iPhone from somebody’s hand – if the victim is armed and has quick enough reflexes this is a risky proposition.

If there are armed victims and armed bystanders then the criminal having a gun and robbing somebody is the worst strategy

Will March 3, 2011 1:53 PM

People keep returning to the idea – not in the source article – that gun carrying might be a factor in the states:

Are people saying that gun carrying in the states is rising, or that the likelihood of using a gun to shoot a fleeing thief is increasing?

phred14 March 3, 2011 1:58 PM

Reading the summary, it reminded me of medical epidemiology and immunology. I remember reading that to “win the battle” against a common childhood disease you only had to reach 60-70% with a vaccine. That much penetration disrupted the mobility of the infection sufficiently for it to become minimized. (For the rare case, I’m sure “gone” just doesn’t hack it as a term to use.)

I know that this isn’t completely parallel, but in an “apprentice-propagated” type of crime there still appears to be a resemblance. Next question… what crimes other than pickpocketing could fall to the same regimen?

Dilbert March 3, 2011 2:17 PM

Actually, in the U.S. there is a very specific target for pickpocketing. I’ve even read that pickpockets come from all over the world to this one event to practice their “trade”.

Mardi Gras!

Large, drunken crowds. Lots of jostling and bumping into people. It’s a pickpockets gold mine.

Mister Krabs March 3, 2011 2:57 PM

Here the criminals are almost all armed, so pickpocketing becomes armed robbery. Why rely on stealth and trickery when they can just threaten to kill their victim?

B. D. Johnson March 3, 2011 3:00 PM

I suppose the author would be happy to know that the art of the pickpocket is alive and well Las Vegas. Most infamously the “grope and grab” used by the ladies of the evening, and the techniques are passed on from one “generation” to the next.

There are also more traditional pick-pockets around, but they are dying out.

Of course, Star Trek conventions always bring them out because they know that everyone’s PIN is 1701…

nick March 3, 2011 3:17 PM

In the US, there’s no reason to pay cash. Every shop takes credit cards. And if you really need green paper there are ATMs everywhere.

Europe is far behind in terms of payment cards. Cash is used far more frequently.

Mike F March 3, 2011 4:58 PM

I appreciate that this is both picky and off topic but the verb is pick. So, not pickpocketing but picking pockets.

And don’t get me started on weightlifting.

Rob March 3, 2011 4:59 PM

I also wonder if an increase in the number of smartphones means an increase in the speed at which credit cards can be cancelled.

Richard Steven Hack March 3, 2011 5:21 PM

IIRC, the last I read about pickpocketing in the US is that most of them now are from South America where the training is still being conducted. So it would seem that pickpocketing has been “outsourced”. 🙂

One of my favorite shows is TNT’s “Leverage”, where pickpocketing is a big deal. Crime consultant Apollo Robbins has trained actress Beth Riesgraf (who plays “Parker”) to be a pretty fair pickpocket, to the chagrin of everyone on the cast and crew.

The British equivalent of “Leverage” is “Hustle”, where pickpocketing is frequently used to pick up “expense money” for the team of con artists. One episode had Matt Di Angelo plowing through a bar of wealthy types collecting wallets, car keys, etc.

I would also point out that carrying credit cards doesn’t diminish pickpocketing since stealing a credit card, in these days of identity theft, along with a wallet full of personal identification, is a much bigger jackpot than whatever cash the mark is carrying. Frequently those wallets will have ATM pin numbers, checking account statements, etc. in them. Who needs the ten bucks the guy has in cash when you can strip his bank account of its entire balance? I’m sure pickpockets these days work closely with identity thieves.

busy bee March 3, 2011 7:15 PM

@nick re payment cards

As someone who grew up in Europe, studied in the States, and moved back to Europe, I question your premise that “Europe is far behind in terms of payment cards”. I have never needed to use cash much anywhere, not in the US but certainly not anywhere I’ve lived in Europe either. In my experience, the ability to shop with payment cards has been a fact of life at least since the mid-80’s everywhere I went in Europe and at least since 1995 in the US. Do you have data that shows that cash is used far more frequently in Europe?

Coming to the US in 1995, I found the retail banking system astonishingly primitive. When I opened my bank account in the US, I said I would not be needing a check book because I preferred to pay electronically. The bank employee patiently explained to me that I would need to write checks to pay my bills. She evidently thought that balancing a checkbook was the zenith of personal banking. She stubbornly refused to understand that the electronic payment systems I was describing were how things worked back home. She insisted that I was daydreaming about how I had imagined banks would work in America. Even today, you cannot pay your bills electronically in America as simply as you could in Belgium in 1990.

One possible reason for the art of picking pockets to die more slowly in Europe than in America is that America, much more than Europe, seems to have had a widespread culture of confrontation and violence within and between organized gangs, especially youth gangs. If you don’t get respect for mastering the skill, and if it’s not a particularly safe or lucrative line of business, why bother acquiring the skill?

RobertT March 4, 2011 12:15 AM

My only knowledge of pick-pocketing comes from personal experience, all of it as the victim. Based on the frequency it happens with, I’d suggest that the trade is alive and well, maybe just not in the US.

From my experience, I’d say the very best ply their trade in China, in particular it seems the Western Chinese are adept at this traditional art. On a couple of occasions I have had a wallet picked from an inside coat pocket (with a zipper at the pocket top). On one occasion they have removed Half the money and replaced the wallet. Now I have no ****ing idea how one can do this, especially if the victim is well aware of the problem. But alas it has happened to me personally, so I can only tip my hat, and acknowledge the skills of some real professional pick-pockets.

Maurice March 4, 2011 1:26 AM

The quote clearly states the enhanced and tougher law enforcement in the US as a main reason for the success against picking pockets, the quote does not mention gun laws.

In Europe we now have the open borders with the Eastern European countries wich give the criminal gangs there free access to their targets in other countries. After they hit they just move to another country, making it much harder to catch them.

Also deporting criminals back to their home country is not really going to solve anything as they are free to move back to your own country. So all you do is pay for their family visit.

Note that I’m not saying the free borders itself are a bad idea. Like everything else it has advantages and disadvantages, and these Eastern European criminals are definitely a disadvantage. What would be interesting is how picking pockets is doing in Great Britain (which still has border controls) in comparison to France or Germany.

w March 4, 2011 1:49 AM

The same amount of pick pocketing is probable happening, just using different technology.
In my opion its more thought patterns that would minimize (stealth,theft,risk), and that probable doesn’t change much from generations to generations

Chris March 4, 2011 2:58 AM

Are you americans serious?
Shooting a pickpocket? And you dare to talk about europeans beeing “wary of people not from their own tribe”. Fascinating how distorted the perception of reality can be.
Good luck living in your shiny little imaginary world.

And to the fellow europeans: get your perspective right. Petty thefts and annoying beggars are far from even beeing near the top of the list of relevant problems.
Maybe in some spots like Naples, but not in general.

w March 4, 2011 3:24 AM

50% of the human race are murderers at any one instant. Fight or fly, the difference is the situation/environment you are in.(sub conciseness thoughts). I wonder why your thinking like that?
sub conciseness or conciseness?

keith March 4, 2011 4:50 AM

I’ve never had my pockets picked on my travels (and i hope to keep it that way), partly due to ah helpful does of paranoia (it’s my personal reminder to maintain good situation awareness = make it harder for a pick to work).
I have however spotted the signs that a pair of picks were about to target out group, and ensured that they changed targets buy obvious and evasive action (i.e. make them aware of your knowledge of them without confontation).

With all the times I’ve spotted picks (without being part a target) being In cities with lots of tourists, What it does make me wonder if there skills are skills are reduced in a target rich environment.

catalin March 4, 2011 4:51 AM

hmm ..adam..i am romanian but .. media just don’t know shit about gypsies. they are by definition a nomad population. and confusion between rom/roma (aka gypsies) and romanian doesn’t help. by the way the greater population of gypsies live in spain.. search and learn please. but your argument, and Scheneir too, is false. good nation and bad nations/populations just doesn’t exist , just good people and bad people. this kind of argumend is pure rasism by definition..sorry..check please.

uk visa March 4, 2011 6:39 AM

I suspect many pickpockets have transitioned to shoplifting… it strikes me the outcome of shoplifting is more predictable and the amount of cash that people carry has fallen greatly over the years.

bluesmoke March 4, 2011 7:53 AM

There are maybe 10 million Roma people in Europe, maybe 15 million; statistics vary. Some of them, mostly in Western Europe, have been well integrated for generations and they even refuse to be called Roma, insisting on other designations such as Sinti.

I think that Western Europeans faced with the growing influx of often criminal Roma from Eastern Europe are beginning to understand that for many of them, crime is a culture and a way of life and you won’t ever get them to change.

Conclusion: Invest in companies building and running prisons in private-public partnerships and their suppliers, business will be booming for them. (That’s assuming the current trend of denying the problem even exists, reverses.)

No One March 4, 2011 9:30 AM

@Chris: Where has anyone here advocated shooting the pickpocket?

karrde quickly established that even in Texas (which has some of the more permissive gun-related laws in the Union) a pickpocket is not a valid target for lethal force.

I tried to state that the perception of violence is more likely to affect crime (whether for good or for ill, Alan Bostick brought up), rather than the act of violence itself.

Nowhere in the US is it legal or acceptable to shoot a pickpocket, so I don’t get from where you get your inflammatory idea that we’re all advocating murder.

mulad March 4, 2011 9:38 AM

I’m not surprised that pickpocketing is dying off — most parts of the country have few places where people really gather in large enough crowds for the whole endeavor to be profitable — A previous comment noted that pickpockets actually have to travel from event to event to find the necessary crowds. The fact that the rate is so low in NYC is a bit perplexing, but that could be explained by the fact that training grounds across the rest of the country have mostly died off.

How often does the average American actually walk along a sidewalk? Do they encounter many (or any) people in the process? The country mostly gets around by car, driving from business to business. The places where people do gather tend to be bristling with cameras — individual transit vehicles can have several (with trains, that can add up to dozens).

CJ March 4, 2011 11:16 AM

I had no idea it was being treated as a felony. I would believe it is a dying art. It seems with the advent of the immense amount of technology and ways for digital theft..why take the time to go out into the streets.

a romanian March 4, 2011 12:42 PM

Romanian = citizen of Romania
Roma, … = gypsy

Yes, many gypsies (roma) from east europe (not only Romania) went to west europe.

In Romania they were brought as slaves some centuries ago and even today they are not integrated into the romanian society.

AnonymousPrime March 4, 2011 5:42 PM

The Texas thing actually gets…interesting.

The pickpocket is probably not a valid target for lethal force. Immediately. They may engage in a variety of actions that may make them a valid target.

If however, you have more than a certain amount of cash–it’s a felony… you’ve witnessed it. You may have cause for lethal force depending on your state. So…keep an ounce of gold in your wallet, then you can blow them away. Better yet, keep a tracking beacon worth that much–and you can probably hunt them down like an antelope.

Bonus points if you shoot from your private helicopter…

If you have a judge that buys the doctrine of “fighting words” (and this is established by the supreme court of the land…)–they are a target for fisticuffs. You can beat them six ways till Sunday as long as they don’t reasonably believe you’ll kill or maim them, and it’s pretty much presumed reasonable.

Downside–since courts like to throw it out, you’ll probably have to appeal up to use it as an affirmative defense.

If they produce a weapon in any form–you can probably shoot them, and your previous action probably won’t count as provocation in several states… Of course, they may be permitted to use lethal force if they have legitimate reason to feel their life is in danger. Complicated. Better not seem too angry while you’re shitkicking them.

Tossing your wallet back to you may reasonably be misinterpreted as them pulling a slapjack out of their pocket…. especially by someone chasing after a thief in frenzied panic about their lost wallet in the heat of the moment. Oh, they pulled a weapon while you were running empty handed…

And a pickpocket fleeing down a crowded street is probably bumping into people…that may qualify as aggravated battery. You may now be in pursuit of a fleeing felon. Some previous rules may not apply.

Good ol’ Texas….

Many states– in addition to “castle doctrine” where you can defend your home–also have “stand your ground” laws. Basically, If you are somewhere you’re legally allowed to be, you may defend yourself with lethal force when someone attempts to remove you forcibly. This is speculated to include–if they try pretty much anything violent while you pursue them in public spaces.

So yeah… I wouldn’t want to be a pickpocket caught in Texas against someone with a decent lawyer.

And as a Texan, let me add…that’s the way it should be.

This post is only half troll.

Werner March 5, 2011 5:00 PM

@No One: “Also, here’s a good reason for a pickpocket to not arm himself”

The risk of being arrested after a failed pickpocket attempt for possessing a weapon can be easily avoided by the pickpocket going unarmed and having an armed wingman who will not appear to be connected to the pickpocket and who can just walk away in the unlikely event of police interference.

Of course, in an area with heavy enough police presence to make the whole issue relevant, it’s probably a bad idea to get into a gunfight in the first place. Not that this would really stop someone crazy enough …

  • Werner

nic March 6, 2011 5:10 PM

I have lived in Vienna for many years, and have fallen victim once to Romanian pickpockets. They crowded me on the subway when I was carrying my then 2-year daughter. Despite this I was able to detain one of them; she carried no identification and claimed to be 13, which is below the age of criminal responsibility, so the police had to let her go.

Once my aunt had her bag stolen by a Romanian girl in Vienna. A passing local simply let his dogs off the leash to round her up.

Matt from CT March 6, 2011 5:14 PM

I go with the folks above who, in addition to the law enforcement angle, cite fewer tourist hotspots and more personal space in America as factors discouraging them.

We have our own Gypsy and other “Traveler” scum. Sorry for any scum that I’ve insulted by associating them with Travelers.

I’ve encountered them on my own property before — one of the very few times I wished I could go old west and strap on a pistol belt before greeting them in the yard.

Typical scam will be a freezer in the back of a pickup loaded with not very good frozen steaks.

That gives them the opportunity to sell steaks.

And a cover story why they’re driving into every driveway in an neighborhood and looking around (“Hey, we’re only door to door salesmen…”)

Great way to collect intelligence to also come back with other construction or confidence scams later — the door-to-door salesmen ruse lets them find out where the elderly, etc live; who has driveways or gutters that might be marginal to sell them overpriced, inferior quality repairs, whose homes they might be able to talk their way into.

Benoît Rigaut March 6, 2011 5:47 PM

Seems like eradicating a virus. Except its a meme.

Maybe will find a ressurgence of the pickpocketing craft by the spread on the web of an how to PDF or video!

Doug Coulter March 6, 2011 8:09 PM

Another take. Criminals by definition don’t respect the laws. Being human, they tend to “project” that others think like them. Of course, they’re scared of guns in victims hands, even though we potential victims know we’ll be in real serious trouble should we shoot one — they don’t know we think like that, after all. They might assume you carry a spare “cold piece” to put on their dead body after you shoot them, as cops are widely known to do.

No pickpocket is going to get a properly concealed weapon — mine is strapped to me pretty well. And if he bumps it and realizes what it is, he’s gone. If anyone else here carries, take note of this. Not all carry methods are safe and give the owner positive retention by default!

I am aware of zero laws that allow shooting felons in any case but self defense, and using that means first admitting to homicide and then trying to justify it. All the gun guys I know would avoid that just as much as possible — you can get in jail for just pointing a gun at some one (brandishing) in a lot of places. Doesn’t have to be real or loaded either.

Now, a pickpocket found dead in an alley is likely to attract very little law enforcement to find out who did it — he’s probably got a rap sheet, and most cops would just go, wow, less work for me, but pickpockets usually work crowded places.

All that said, I think it’s two things — we Americans do respect space and notice quick when it’s violated, and we don’t carry cash much anymore. It’s not safe for a variety of reasons, like other people in the house helping themselves.

Add one more. The work, mental and physical, it takes to be a success as a crook is more than it takes to make money legit. Crooks are what they are because they lack that kind of discipline, and pickpocketing is a hard skill to learn well….

They had this topic on NPR tonight, and had a “real pickpocket” bemoaning the shift to armed robbery, which as he said, has a lot less class associated with it. Not only that, you can shoot them just fine….So in a sense it’s more dangerous to be an armed than an unarmed crook.

You never know about unintended consequences. Due to project Exile in Richmond, the drug dealers stopped carrying guns — it was just too dangerous, and they have to be out in public to do their trade. The result was a long string of robberies of them by armed crooks who obviously knew where drugs and money could be safely stolen — what’s the dealer going to do? Call the cops and report the stolen crack? Maybe you need a strange sense of humor, but I thought that was hilarious.

DC March 6, 2011 10:38 PM

This is a preventitive measure I use in Thailand.

Keep your wallett in a front pocket. With the opening facing downwards. Twist the pocket through 180 Degrees. Or 360 if the pocket allows this. Your leg keeps it twisted. Doesn’t work with some trousers but in Thailand shorts are the norm and it works fine with all my shorts.

Hope it helps someone.

Bram March 7, 2011 7:17 AM

@BF Skinner

Boston does allow carrying, for the record. (In theory NYC does too, but it ain’t happening.) It varies by area (Roxbury? Good luck) but I had no trouble getting an unrestricted license where I live and can carry anywhere in Boston, including public transportation, with only a few exceptions for schools, bars, government buildings, etc.

Apologies for the off-topic post. 🙂

Jilara March 7, 2011 11:58 AM

The obvious answer to why pickpocketing is a dying art in America is that we are undergoing a cultural shift. Instead of the subtle art of the pickpocket, our thieves employ grab-and-go (purse snatching) or strongarm tactics.

John March 7, 2011 4:04 PM

Muggers, purse snatchers, identity theft, bankers encouraging people to take loans they can’t handle, colleges being a big market mill to get federal money (you get federal loan, you get shitty job, but you have a degree, and you have to pay back the loan!).

I miss good old fashioned crime. Walk out in public, get pickpocketed. Biggest concern.

Patrick G. March 8, 2011 3:37 AM

I lived in Berlin (Germany) for decades, basically my whole live. I have no car and use public transport all the time. Nonetheless, I lost one purse with about 100 Euros of cash (the purse minus cash was dropped in sight!) and one (old) mobile phone in all those years.

Big deal! As Europeans, you learn quickly to live with your neighbors, most of which are really nice people. And who cares about a few pickpockets when serious crimes and corruption cost us billions and billions a year?

And I rather have my wallet undetectably lifted by a pro pickpocket than being robbed at gunpoint or mugged and beaten.

And sure, weapons are a deterrent for pickpockets: they just get a weapon themselves and start robbing people/places. So you don’t lose a bit of cash, you lose your life in the worst case. Just look at the statistics and the overflowing prisons…

B March 9, 2011 10:52 AM

I can attest to pickpockets prowling tourist areas in Athens Greece. A sharp bump on my book bag once while standing at a stop light in a major square made me turn around very suddenly. This was decidedly to my advantage, as later when I took it off, I found that the zipper on the back pouch had been left midway opened, and I had (stupidly) placed my passport there that morning, the most valuable thing they could have stolen! I remember the 30-something men’s faces behind me when I turned around, and would characterize them as Eastern European, consistent with the article. I don’t know why I turned around with such aggressiveness, except that I was in a new place and not very comfortable.

I’m not particularly for exterminating all crime nor all germs. Petty crime and germs occupy a niche in an ecosystem, often crowding out much more serious and destructive crime and germs. Just wash your hands, and keep your wallet in a deep pocket!

sniff March 16, 2011 7:38 AM

Seriously, what’s the matter with beggars?
What so bad about someone sitting at a wall with a hat at the floor?

Calling it a blight is ridiculous, organized or not.

dermot March 17, 2011 9:49 PM

I have one message for those in the US discouraged by the systematic internment of our forefagins, the americanexpressization of our wallets…
You gotta pick a pocket or two boys…..
You gottta pick a pocket or two!

Duh June 18, 2011 12:07 PM

Omg. I just got picked. They got my wallet AND my handgun. Damn, I figured Cleveland was safe

john riehle August 2, 2011 2:21 AM

Factoid: there is no statistical relationship between states or locales that permit carrying concealed weapons and crime rates. Unlike the general public, most criminologists are well aware that packing a gun isn’t going to deter criminals any more than getting arrested and incarcerated deters criminals. Various social factors affect crime rates but the threat of punishment and/or violence are not among them.

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