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Don’t be a Pickpocketing Victim This Holiday Season

Mid pickpocket demonstration. Photo by Kamil Szalewicz
Police demonstrated how pickpockets work and ways to avoid becoming a victim of theft. Photo by Kamil Szalewicz

The upcoming holidays are a time for pickpockets and muggers. But Chicago Police Department officials said Wednesday; you don’t have to be a victim.

“The holidays mean crowds. Criminals love crowds. … They fish where fishing’s good. You don’t fish in a dead pond,” said Lt. Thomas Clark, of the Department of Special Divisions, during a news conference at the Near South Side Chicago Police Department’s District I station at 1718 S. State St.

Police re-enacted pickpocket’s different moves during the annual holiday safety demonstration, which gave the public how-to tips in spotting and stopping pickpockets.

“We want our holiday shoppers to go home with everything they came here with,” Clark said. “The holidays are a busy time for us, they’re a busy time for you and they’re a busy time for criminals who want to make you a victim.”

Pickpocketing numbers are down slightly this year from last, according to police records, but theft will always be prevalent.

“It’s never going to go away,” Clark said. “It’s human nature.” District 18 covers the Michigan Avenue shopping district where the majority of shoppers go for the holidays, There were 91 thefts this year Sept. 11, through Nov. 11—13, which was more incidents than 2012.

Overall, crime has decreased there by 14 percent, according to Clearpath, a website run by the Chicago police. There were only 2,139 reported crimes, as opposed to last year’s 2,495.

The shoppers, usually tourists, are “easy prey” concentrated on what to buy or where to shop. They also tend to carry more cash, Clark explained.

“What we’re looking for is for you to have situational awareness,” Clark said. “Look around. Be aware of what’s going on around you.”

Police also don’t want people to fight.

“We want you to remember nothing you bought can’t be replaced,” Clark stressed. “Nothing on your phone is that important. Your health is everything. Your family wants you home for the holidays. Please don’t confront people. Let us do our job.”

Thieves, Clark said, typically employ one of four different methods.

  • The first, the simple pick. Ladies: reaching into an open purse from behind. Men: snagging a wallet out of a back pocket. “You know those loose cargo pants that we love? You can fit your head in that back pocket,” he said.
  • The revolving door stall, as Clark called it, requires two people. The first will go through the revolving door. Once you follow him or her through, the person will drop something or stall – allowing the second to grab your wallet or cellphone.
  • The elevator stall follows a similar style – one man distracts you while the second pickpockets you. The elevator doors will close with the second man already out of the building.
  • Finally, there is simply falling down. “They will do a fall getting on an elevator or onto an L car and while you’re helping the poor guy in front of you up, who is actually the partner of the guy who is behind you and now in your pockets or purse,” Clark said.

Be aware of your surroundings. Keep valuables hidden. Walk with your eyes level to those around you. Clark said. “Don’t make it easy.” Sometimes, Clark said, making eye contact with suspicious characters that are likely to pickpocket you is enough to deter them.

He added that successful situational awareness also requires knowing what not to do:

  • Don’t use your headphones in public.
  • Don’t get lost in your iPhone or iPad.
  • Don’t set your cellphone down at the bar.
  • Don’t put your purse on the floor.
  • Don’t hang your purse over a chair in a crowded restaurant.

After the news conference, ChicagoTalks took to the streets to talk to shoppers and see if they were prepared for the holidays.

Former Chicago Tribune editor Marjorie David, 67, said she experienced the stall style of pickpocketing four years ago. While riding the bus, David said she believes two or three men worked together to get her checkbook.

“As I got up to get off… this man came behind me,” she said. “He kind of brushed my arm, being really friendly, really polite.”

She walked toward the doors and she said several men were blocking the doors.

“He must’ve gotten into my bag, because I was going to the vet across the street and I got in there, I was looking for my checkbook, and it was gone,” she said. “I didn’t feel him do it.”

South African tourists Gert Lindeque, 21, and Kyle Coetwz, 21, said they felt pretty okay in the city, despite Chicago’s high crime and murder rates.

“I feel safe in America compared to South Africa,” Lindeque said. “I saw some suspicious characters, but I haven’t really witnessed any crimes.”

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