Even petty criminals have pre-holiday euphoria and prove extremely active at this time of year.  The methods of pick-pockets appear perfect as their crimes are difficult to prove.  Witnesses are generally passive and the police lack effective prosecution mechanisms due to overcrowded prisons.  Potential victims can do little to prevent pick-pocketing and are left to hope that preventative measures and self-defense will be sufficient.

Author: Jasna PEKIĆ

{gallery}newsletters/16/3/1{/gallery}Incidences of street crime are more common during the holiday season.  The professionalism and skills of so-called petty criminals are impressive.  At the same time, a passive attitude among the general population and the incapacity of the police forces contributes to a feeling of insecurity in the Bosnian and Herzegovinian capital.  The police claim that the “best way to counter this type of crime is for each individual to act preventively.”  This begs the question of what measures are being taken by security services in order to prevent such crimes. 

Just an unpleasant experience?

The local judiciary treats pick-pocketing as a specific type of crime punishable with a monetary fine or up to one year in prison.  It is well-known that pick-pockets favor crowded areas and public transportation hubs.  The website <www.vasapolicija.ba> offers some recommendations for avoiding pick-pockets.  First, individuals are advised to be aware of their surroundings, particularly in crowded places.  Special care should be taken if one observes aggressive pushing or following.  Although most people already know these things, pick-pocketing continues.

When perpetrators are apprehended, they tend to avoid sanctions.  Police are not eager to arrest these petty criminals because local prisons are allegedly overcrowded.  Several perpetrators remain free despite having three or more charges filed against them in cases where witnesses reported their behavior to the authorities.  These individuals continue to operate with impunity in trams and elsewhere because institutions have nowhere to put them!  Finally, apprehending and prosecuting these criminals is difficult due to lack of evidence.  A perpetrator must either be caught in the act of theft or have the stolen item found in his or her possession.  Unfortunately, this rarely occurs.  The police do not monitor public transportation vehicles and witnesses are unlikely to come to the victim’s aid.   

Why are there fewer and fewer examples of brave citizens displaying solidarity?  This complex sociological question has been on the minds of many residents of Sarajevo ever since the Denis Mrnjavac case.  Mrnjavac, a 17 year old, was stabbed and killed by three young men (including one high school student) whom he had never met before.  Although the tram was full, none of the witnesses helped Mrnjavac.(<http://www.dnevni-list.ba/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=261:jesmo-li-zaboravili-denisa-mrnjavca&catid=1:dogaaji&Itemid=2>)  Witnesses justified their passivity based on fear that they might also be attacked, while others suggested the victim was at fault due to apparent lack of caution.   

Pick pocketing – a petty crime?

{gallery}newsletters/16/3/2{/gallery}The French public was recently shocked by the announcement that Bosnian and Herzegovinian criminals were operating a large-scale pick-pocketing organization in Paris.  (<http://www.bhnews.com/index.php/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=10523:djevojice-iz-bih-odvedene-u-pariz-da-kradu&catid=1:bih&Itemid=3>) In a joint operation coordinated by French and Italian police, 18 men were arrested on charges of transporting girls from Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to Paris where they were taught how to steal.  The head of the organization, a 58 year old BiH national, used the organization’s illegally-procured funds to purchase expensive cars and real-estate, as well as gamble extensively in Italy.  This individual and his two sons are currently being held in Italy while they await extradition to France. 

Over 300 girls involved in the pick-pocketing organization have been interviewed.  Some reported that they were “sold” to the criminal enterprise, the largest of its kind ever discovered in Paris.  It is now believed that the girls underwent extensive training where they were taught how to steal wallets in French metros and public places.  They followed strict behavioral codes and employed particular techniques for robbing tourists in Paris and other major European cities.  The girls were required to steal 300 Euros per day.  Failure to net the expected amount resulted in beatings, torture and even rape.  According to local media, the police now believe that the organization’s leadership has earned approximately four million Euros via organized pick-pocketing.  

Pick-pockets work in organized groups which are usually comprised of at least three individuals.  Like begging, pick-pocketing is undergoing a transformation from a petty (or low) to an organized (or grave) form of crime.  From a victim’s viewpoint, we must ask ourselves if pick-pocketing can still be considered a petty crime which causes limited financial damage.  If your new cell phone, wallet, documents or jewelry are stolen by pick-pockets, getting this item back is a costly and time-consuming process.  Feeling insecure in one’s own community and a loss of faith in your judicial system is no small price to pay.