CSI Bologna: The pickpocket

Justice Served: Papers filed, Polizia working "the case"

A cautionary tale about a pickpocket and a tourist with a fat wallet and loose pockets

The art (and craft) of pickpocketing is universal. It can happen anywhere, anytime. This time, it happened to us in Bologna.

We had just passed the elegant window displays at the Galleria Cavour, one of the most upscale shopping centers in Bologna and, perhaps, all of Italy. Located behind the arcades on Via Farini in a high-rent district, the mall houses luxury brands like Armani, Prada, Gucci, Fendi, Bulgari, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta. A very nice neighborhood.

After just having turned the corner on Via Giovanni Massei, I stopped to gawk at a white Maserati displayed in one of the windows. As usual, my trusty photographer was a few steps behind, soaking in the scenery as he captured a photo of one of the arcades.

Photo of the distracting arcade
Photo of the distracting arcade

I continued walking towards the end of the block but turned around as soon as I heard my husband scream, “Ladro! Ladro!”

The last time he used that term for “thief,” we were also in Italy. Many years ago in Rome, we were descending the stairs from a train to the platform. My then-young son was in tow and Jerry was juggling two large suitcases. An unkempt passenger approached my husband from behind and reached down into his pocket, attempting to steal his wallet. Thankfully, this brazen attempt was thwarted by my husband’s “fat wallet” that wouldn’t budge out of his pants.

This time, I worried we might not have been so lucky. I turned around and saw the Bologna perpetrator walk away from us. Now Jerry was pursuing him, yelling “Ladro, Ladro, You tried to steal my wallet.” Just like the time before, passersby pretended not to notice. (I’m not sure I would get involved had I witnessed something similar in New York.)

The thief had been so stealthy in his approach that my husband didn’t hear him until he felt his hand. Fortunately, once again, the pickpocket was foiled by the “fat wallet.”

Not skipping a beat (although my heart was racing), Jerry snapped a couple of pictures of the pickpocket.

Another side view of perpetrator
Another view of the perpetrator
Pickpocket leaving the scene of the crime
Pickpocket leaving the scene of the crime

A middle-aged Good Samaritan ran up to us to see if we were okay. The man was an artist carrying a partially finished painting. He apologized for his city, reminding us that in Bologna, like most large cities, thieves are waiting in prey for opportunities like this was. He urged us to be more careful—advice well taken—and offered us a restaurant recommendation as a way to show his caring.

“Excellent food and very cheap,” he said.

Bonding with the Good Samaritan
Bonding with the Good Samaritan, a life-long Bolognese

When you are balancing a camera in both hands, you are an easy mark—especially if you have floppy pants pockets, “fat wallet” or not.

The inviting "loose pocket"
The inviting “loose pocket”

With such a clear mug shot on our camera, we decided to file a report with the Questura di Bologna, the local police precinct. Hopefully, this would benefit other tourists.

Entrance to the Questura di Bologna/Police Station
Entrance to the Questura di Bologna/Police Station

A huge sign read “Attendere in sala d’attesta” (wait in the waiting room) and “wait” was surely the operative word. For almost two hours, we waited in a holding room with locals who were reporting lost passports or papers, or trying to settle minor traffic offenses. It was an interesting group including a man who had worked at the Carpigiani Gelato Museum, where the first automatic machine for making gelato was created. Much like an emergency room, people were triaged and cases were processed one at a time.

We finally got to file the report of attempted robbery (providing the Polizia with photocopies of our pictures of the ladro). We wondered whether they, who seemed to take the matter as seriously as we did, might put up a Wanted Poster around town or show the perp’s picture on the evening news. Our guess: That won’t happen and the guy won’t ever be caught. Unfortunately, even if by chance he is apprehended, we are certain that there will always be others.

Justice Served: Papers filed, Polizia working "the case"
Justice Served: Papers filed, Polizia working “the case”

Tips for travelers:

  • Since you never know when or where pickpocketers are lurking, you always need to be vigilant, especially when traveling. (We were caught off guard because we felt comfortable in the upscale setting of the neighborhood; the attempt didn’t happen  on public transportation or in a crowded square.)
  • Pickpockets are clever enough to realize that tourists not only are likely to carry passports, credit cards and cash but are likely to be distracted by their new surroundings.
  • People over-50 may be viewed as “soft targets.”
  • Tourists are especially vulnerable when they are trying to take photographs: Your hands are extended away from your body holding the camera, and you are focused on the subject in front of you, not on what may be behind you.

Jerry’s lesson:

Fat wallet or not, horizontal pants pockets are probably more pickproof. However, wearing a vest or jacket over them adds another layer of protection.

My lesson:

I’ll keep a closer eye on my photographer and stop looking at Maseratis.

Also on More Time To Travel:

Two links from my fellow travel writer Mary Margaret Hansen who experienced a pickpocket at the Pantheon in Rome:

Thanks for sharing them, Mary Margaret!

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