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France 2012 Crime and Safety Report: Paris

Europe > France > Paris

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

Crime Threats

France is a relatively safe country. Most crimes are non-violent. 

The majority of crimes directed against foreign visitors, including American citizens, involve pick-pocketing, residential break-ins, bicycle theft, and other forms of theft with minimal violence. However, as in any big city, robberies involving physical assault do occur in Paris and other major urban areas. Visitors frequenting congested areas and known tourist sites (e.g., museums, monuments, train stations, airports, and subways) should be particularly attentive to their surroundings. Crimes against visitors are generally crimes of opportunity, though these crimes are more likely to involve violence on the street late at night or when the victim detects the theft and resists the criminal. 

Caution is required when driving through economically depressed areas, where there is a high incidence of “smash and grab” robberies. Thieves will approach a vehicle that is stopped in traffic, smash a window, reach into the vehicle to grab a purse or other valuable item, and then flee. Keep doors locked and valuables out of sight.
 
Throughout August, when most French residents take summer vacations, and in December, there is generally an increase in the number of residential break-ins. The majority are attributed to residents not using security measures already in place, including double locking doors and locking windows. Home invasions are often preceded by phone calls to see if the resident is at home. Often thieves who manage to gain access to the apartment building will knock on apartment doors to see if anyone answers, offering the excuse they are taking a survey or representing a utility company. 

Crime in Paris is similar to that in most large cities. Violent crime is relatively uncommon in the city center. Pickpockets are by far the most significant problem. In addition to purses and wallets, smart phones and small electronic devices are particular targets. In Paris, pickpockets can be any gender, race, or age and are commonly children under 16 because they are difficult to prosecute. Pickpockets are very active on the rail link (RER B) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the city center. In addition, passengers on the Metro line 1, which traverses the city center from east to west and services many major tourist sites, are often targeted. A common method is for one thief to distract the tourist with questions or disturbances, while an accomplice picks pockets, a backpack, or a purse. Schemes in Paris include asking if you would sign a petition or take a survey and presenting a ring and asking if you dropped it. Thieves often time their pickpocket attempts to coincide with the closing of the automatic doors on the Metro, leaving the victim secured on the departing train. Many thefts also occur at the major department stores (e.g., Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Le Bon Marché), where tourists may leave wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions. Popular tourist sites are also popular with thieves, who favor congested areas to mask their activities. The crowded elevators at the Eiffel Tower, escalators at museums, and the area surrounding Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre are all favored by pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves. There have been some instances of tourists being robbed and assaulted near less populated Metro stations. 

Political Violence 

Historical Perspective

Political violence in Paris and throughout France is still relatively uncommon. 

Political unrest has developed in some Francophone countries with historic ties to France (e.g., Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Tunisia). Some French citizens and residents with ties to such countries have protested in front of the countries’ embassies or consulates in France in response to the unrest. Although these protests are infrequent and do not target Americans, visitors should avoid such demonstrations.

Regional Terrorism and Organized Crime

The government maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Under this plan, the government routinely augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last few years, there have been arrests of suspected Islamic militants involved in terrorist plots. French authorities have periodically spoken publicly about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in Europe. Information is routinely shared between the United States and France in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen defenses against potential threats.

Although American citizens have not been targeted specifically in terrorist attacks in France within the past few years, travelers should remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities to French law enforcement authorities. French law enforcement authorities are proactive and will respond immediately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

Civil Unrest

Large demonstrations in Paris are generally managed by a strong police presence, but such events have the potential to become dangerous and should be avoided. In addition, the congestion caused by large demonstrations can cause serious inconveniences for a visitor on a tight schedule. Likewise, some sporting events, such as soccer matches, have occasionally degenerated into violence that continued into the streets.

Police Response

Public safety and security are maintained by three different forces:  municipal police, national police, and the military gendarmerie. These services are professional, competent, and proactive in fighting crime and violence and maintaining overall state security. 

In an emergency, dialing 17 will connect the caller to the police. You can also dial the Europe-wide emergency response number 112 to reach an operator for all kinds of emergency services (similar to the U.S. 911 system). Non-French speakers may experience a delay while an English speaker is located.
 
For non-emergency assistance, visitors should go to the nearest police station (commissariat) in order to file an official report.

Medical Emergencies

Medical care is comparable to that found in the United States. In an emergency, dialing 15 will connect the caller to emergency medical services. You can also dial the Europe-wide emergency response number 112 to reach an operator for all kinds of emergency services (similar to the U.S. 911 system). Non-French speakers may experience a delay while an English speaker is located. For non-emergency medical assistance in France, you may refer to this list of medical professionals. 

You cannot assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It is very important to find out BEFORE you leave. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
 
Does my policy apply when I am out of the United States? 
Will it cover emergencies like a trip to a foreign hospital or an evacuation? 

In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy does not cover you when you travel, it is a very good idea to take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
  
Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Common sense security precautions will help you enjoy a trouble-free stay. Most problems can be avoided by being aware of one's surroundings and avoiding high-risk areas. 

Carry only essential items. Avoid carrying high-value jewelry and large amounts of cash. Valuables should be kept out of sight and in places difficult for thieves to reach, such as internal coat pockets or in pouches hung around the neck or inside clothes. Shoulder bags and wallets in hip pockets are an invitation to a thief. 

Keep photocopies of travel documents and credit cards separate from the originals, along with key telephone numbers to contact banks for credit card replacement. 

Crowded elevators and escalators at tourist sites and crowded metro cars should raise awareness levels. When possible, take a seat or stand against a wall to deter pickpockets and try to maintain a 360-degree awareness of the surrounding area. 

While on foot, remain aware of your surroundings at all times and keep bags slung across the body, with the bag hanging away from the street. Many American citizens have had purses or bags stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table while in restaurants and nightclubs/bars. Keep your valuables with you and do not leave them unattended or out of your sight. 

Do not leave valuables in hotel rooms. If you must leave valuables in the hotel, consider using the hotel safe. 

Be aware that thieves often operate in groups and will come to each other's aid if confronted. If a thief is caught in the act, a simple pick-pocketing could turn into an assault (or worse) if an attempt is made to capture the thief. The best response would be to verbally alert both the thief and bystanders that you are aware of his/her activity. With the thief detected and others aware, the thief will most likely flee. 

Do not use ATMs in isolated, poorly lighted areas or where loiterers are present. Be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the Personal Identification Number (PIN) being entered into the machine. Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply watching the PIN as it is entered and then stealing the card from the user in some other location. If the card gets stuck in the machine, you should immediately report it to the bank where the machine is located as well as to your bank. 

Many theft and assault victims are targeted when making their way home from a late night out after drinking alcohol. If you go out late at night, do so with a group of friends. There is safety in numbers. 

Areas to Avoid

Some areas in Paris where extra security precautions are warranted after dark are Les Halles and the Pigalle area.

Visitors to adult entertainment districts, such as the Pigalle metro area, should take particular care at night. Also note that many nightclubs in these areas engage in very aggressive marketing, charging exorbitant rates for drinks. Hidden charges of 500-600 euros for drinks are not uncommon, and there have been reports of threats to coerce customers into paying these charges by physically preventing customers from leaving until the tab is settled. 

Additionally, public parks, particularly Bois de Boulogne, should be avoided after dark as they are often frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes. 

The Paris Police Prefecture publishes a pamphlet entitled “Paris in Complete Safety” that provides practical advice and useful telephone numbers for visitors. It can be downloaded at: http://www.prefecturedepolice.interieur.gouv.fr/Pied-de-page/English/Publications/Paris-in-complete-safety

Further Information

U.S. Embassy Paris 
2, avenue Gabriel
75008 Paris
Tel. +33 1 43 12 22 22

James Murphy
Regional Security Officer
Tel. +33 1 43 12 21 19
Fax. +33 1 43 12 29 40

Website: http://france.usembassy.gov/

Please visit the U.S. Department of State Travel Information page (http://travel.state.gov/) for additional information.

OSAC Country Council

The OSAC France Country Council can be reached at OSACFrance@state.gov.