Thieves Beware : People See You
Each year car theft costs us about ￡300
million, and burglary sets us back by another ￡150
Yet the police reckon that one car in five is left
unlocked, or with windows open, or with expensive goods temptingly on
display. It is estimated that over 60% of homes still do not have any
window locks (although that's better than a few years ago when it was
nearer 90% ) .
These facts illustrate a basic truth.
The truth is that most criminals are on the lookout for
a soft touch. They are not hardened "professionals" who set out
with particular targets in mind, but young, inexperienced or
What they're looking for is a house or car that will
let them get in, get what they want and get away quickly.
In short, an easy opportunity.
Many of these opportunities can just as easily be
removed. By fitting and using locks. Or by taking other very simple
And if we can foil small-time criminals with modest
individual effort and cost, how much more could be achieved by working
together in Neighbourhood Watches ( there are forty-two thousand already)?
Or in other local activities involving police, councils, businesses,
voluntary groups and schools?
More radically still, what might we see if more
systematic effort was made to design anti-crime features into cars, houses
This is not a pipe dream: it's already happening.
Take housing. There is a growing awareness of how the
design, layout and construction of houses and estates can affect the
incidence of crime.
Many police forces are now appointing specialist
architectural liaison officers in their crime prevention departments.
A new British Standard has been published. Some
builders are now building security features into new housing
Or cars. The Institute for Consumer Ergonomics at
I,oughborough University carried out a research project into automobile
security which was presented to the motor industry at a special Home
Some manufacturers are now fitting better security on
the production line. Some magazine road tests regularly report on the
About 95% of crirnes are against property rather than
people. But, not surprisingly, it is the remaining 5% --assault, mugging
and rape, for example-that causes the most comment and concern.
But even thugs look for easy opportunities. The dark
the pensioner who doesn't check callers' credentials, the child who
accepts a lift from a stranger. These can be reduced by personal and
For example, because all of us feel vulnerable
sometimes, police and other experts have devised simple, sensible
precaution which individuals can adopt to help minimise the risk of being
You can't miss the neighbourhood watch people, or
"old auntie". as they are sometimes called. As in neighbourhoods
all over Beijing. they wear red armbands and sit on small chairs in lances
off Wenjia Street downtown.
If you are a stranger there and your behaviour arouses
their suspicion, you are likely to be stopped for questions, such as whom
you are looking for and where you are from.
You needn't worry about theft if you live in the area
and forget to lock the door of your house; the aunties will lock it during
their daily inspection tour past every house in -the community. But
remember, a severe criticism of your carelessness will follow.
Their presence may be one reason the 426-household
community with about 1,200 residents has been free from theft, burglary
and other criminal acts for almost 10 years.
Every community member is encouraged by their
neighbourhood residents' committee to remain alert for possible theft and
to contribute an individual effort to the maintenance of a safe
The Wenjia Street neighbourhood residents' committee
runs a public security committee together with committees on mediation,
publie health, and women's affairs.
" They all look inconspicuous, yet their functions
are great," cammented a public order official from the Ministry of
The official's comment is understandable. since the
neighbourhood committees have proved to be an effective approach to
maintaining public order and ensuring public safety at a time when
professional police are in short supply.
In the Wenjia public security committee, for instance,
in addition to six directors, there are 138 residents who act as amateur
police for the neighbourhood.
Except the six directors, who receive 45 yuan monthly
from he government, the neighbours work voluntarily. They form a small but
sensitive security network in their community.
Among the 138, 54 are retired workers or older
housewives, whose job is to take turns guarding the 42 courtyards of
houses in the community.
According to Ran Yuzhen, the committee director, the
whole community has been divided into 35 groups, with 62 people appointed
to be group leaders.
" Every community member is involved in the
security work," said Ran.
Safety is maintained in a number of ways.
First, patrols by professional police.
Second, daily inspection tours around the community by
six committee directors.
The directors keep a log of their observations while
inspecting the neighbourhood.
Third, guarding of courtyards and houses by the
retirees and housewives.
Fourth, installation of burglar-proof locks.
"Safety is possible with the participation o#
every member in the community involved in the security work," said
Lu Xiuli was not boasting when he said he was a
top-notch policeman. "1 catch thieves. I know their tricks and always
make a big haul. "
Lu. 42, works with the Criminal Investigation
Department of the Municipal
Public Security Bureau of Guilin in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. He
heads a special task force to catch thieves and pickpockets on crowded
buses and other public places.
"The thieves are very much afraid of me," he
said. "Whenever they recognize
me, they run off as a rat fears a cat. "
With his long experience, Lu can recall from memory the
names and nicknames of more than 1,000 thieves or pickpockets in the city.
He can list their physical characteristics and knows their haunts and
tricks of the trade. He always carries a small notebook with information
about major suspects. This has helped him spot them when they are on the
Typical pickpockets are unemployed urban youth aged
between 18 and 25, Lu said. They have grown up and are quite independent
of their parents. But they do not yet have their own families. And they do
not care much about the consequences of their activities.
Their targets are usually tourists or travelling
traders from outside the city, not only because these people often carry a
lot of money but also they are only transients who know little about local
conditions. Thieves usually avoid locals for fear that they may come
across them some other day and, even if they were not caught in the act,
they may be recognized sooner or later.
"I have learned to spot pickpockets on a crowded
bus by the distinctive ways they move," Lu said. Many pickpockets on
a bus choose their targets when passengers expose the location of their
wallet as they take out money to pay the fare. The pickpocket edges
towards his victim asking, people to make way as if he wanted to get off
the bus. But he stops next to the target and raising one hand to grip the
overhead bar, slips the other into the person's pocket and deftly removes
the money using only index and middle fingers.
Pickpockets are usually not dangerous criminals, but
sometimes Lu has to fight them face to face in a life and death struggle.
Because he has shown no mercy in dealing with thieves, many of them are
waiting for a chance to take their revenge. Some even threatened him.
"Don't be too harsh on us or sooner or later we will settle with
you," warned one.
But Lu is not to be intimidated. "I'm a people's
policeman and will never recoil in fear before enemies," he said.
"To protect the people's interests, I am ready to shed my blood and
even sacrifice my life. " In his nine years of police career, Lu
scuffled with criminals 29 times and was injured three times.