NEWS

Thieves are bold, fast and often professional

Purse-snatchers can strike anywhere – on busy avenues as well as empty suburban streets – and at any hour of the day or night. However, statistics show that bag-snatching incidents are more likely to occur in frequented areas and during daylight hours. Petralona, the Acropolis, Palaio Faliron, Maroussi, Iraklion, Halandri, Peristeri and Aegaleo are just some of the haunts of the bag thieves. Basically, purse-snatchers operate in two ways. The most frequent method is an assault on pedestrians aimed at forcibly tearing away the bag – often resulting in injury to the person involved. Ninety percent of the victims are female. Maria, 24, proves the rule. Returning to her Amerikis Square home one night at around 1 a.m., she was attacked by a bag-snatcher on a motorcycle. «I was walking along the pavement on Patission Street. Suddenly, a motorbike approached along the pavement and stopped, apparently to ask me directions. He stopped somewhere where there was light and I managed to get a look at his face. «He was very young, and he sounded like a Greek. I replied with an ‘I don’t know’ and continued walking. But he followed me on his bike and a few meters further on, grabbed the bag,» Maria said. «I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t let go. I didn’t have any money in the bag but I thought of all the documents I had inside. He continued pulling, but didn’t pick up any speed. With him literally dragging me, we crossed Patission. All that time, I didn’t think of screaming or shouting for help. It was like I was frozen. At some point, he made off.» Maria didn’t report the incident, fearing trouble with the police. «No, I’m not afraid of going around alone at night. I usually don’t think about it. Except when I hear a motorcycle…» But the newest method is for thieves to approach cars on the passenger side, break the glass and snatch any bag on the seat. Men, as well as women, are victims of this crime. The offenders are either motorcyclists or pedestrians who have an accomplice waiting for them on a motorbike. There have also been cases of criminals opening the front passenger door, and threatening the driver with a weapon. A victim of such an assault was 23-year-old Tenia, who works as a DJ at a bar. On Mesogeion Avenue, at 7.30 p.m. – «I was parking my car at the time» – a man «opened the door and sat in the passenger seat. I saw his face, he was young, around 30 and dark. The only thing he said was ‘Don’t move, you!’ and he showed me the knife he held in his hand. He grabbed my bag and my case with the CDs.» Tenia reported the theft to the police but the man has not been caught. «I try not to think about it. But sometimes the scene replays in my mind. He took me by surprise; he frightened me,» she said. On the same day, in the same area, another four similar incidents were reported. Police fazed The police seem unable to deal with this phenomenon which first appeared in the 1980s and, by all indications, is rapidly increasing today. Although bag-snatching gangs are sometimes broken up, solving such cases is difficult, Yiannakopoulos said. «For a start, it’s extremely rare for the thieves to be caught in the act. Usually, they’re on a motorcycle and they can easily get away if they see a patrol car. We need information to make an arrest, or for a victim to recognize a perpetrator.» Recognition, naturally enough, is very difficult, since the victim seldom has more than a glimpse of their attacker. «Often, they tell us they didn’t see whether there was one or more perpetrators or if they had a motorcycle. Everything happens in a flash,» Yiannakopoulos said. In the past three years, to break the glass of car windows, thieves have been using the ponta, a tool 15 centimeters (6 inches) long used by aluminum workers, which consists of a point and a spring. «The crack it makes strongly resembles a gunshot, which is why the first few times it was used, the victims said they had been shot at and we would be searching for the bullet.» The deputy police chief said the perpetrators of attacks on pedestrians were usually drug addicts trying to get money for a fix. But car assaults – breaking windows or forced entry – were usually the work of organized criminal gangs. «They are professionals,» Yiannakopoulos said. «They often follow the victim after he or she’s taken money out of the bank. If you’re a target, you’ll lose your money.»