China / Cover Story

Chinese police to get with the Parisian beat

By Zhang Lei (China Daily) Updated: 2014-05-21 07:16

Chinese police to get with the Parisian beat

Officers from China will patrol the streets of Paris this summer to assist with a crackdown on crimes against tourists in the French capital, as Zhang Lei reports.

Tourists urged to play safe

In 2012, more than 900 Chinese tourists visited the consular section of the Chinese embassy in France to obtain emergency travel permits because their passports had been stolen, a 50 percent increase compared with 2011, according to the embassy's website.

Violence against Chinese tourists is not unusual in Paris. Deeply influenced by traditional Chinese culture, the tourists and even the French people of Chinese origin tend to be conciliatory when it comes to solving a problem; when money can settle an issue, they usually pay up. Because Chinese tourists often fail to report crimes to the French police, mainly because of the language barrier, they have become targets for criminal groups.

Tourists are advised to print out their passports and identity documents and carry copies in their luggage. That will ensure that if their documents are stolen, they will have proof of identity and will be able to apply for an emergency travel document to return home, said the embassy's website.

Xie Wen is planning to travel to Europe. However, even though Xie's first stop on the continent will be Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, she won't be visiting the French capital.

"I will take the high speed TGV train from a station near the airport and head to southern France. I have read too many stories about crime in Paris. Even though it would be heavenly to see the magnificent views and sites, I cannot go there, especially as I will be traveling with my only child," the 36-year-old Beijing resident said.

Xie has reason to be wary. Crimes against Chinese tourists in Paris have mushroomed in recent years, prompting headlines in the national media.

In March 2013, 23 Chinese tourists were targeted by thieves at a restaurant in the Le Bourget area of Paris. Reports said the thieves made off with 7,500 euros ($10,300) in cash, plus passports and plane tickets. The leader of the tourist group was attacked and injured in the incident.

Liu Xianglin was the victim of pickpockets who stole 2,000 yuan ($321) as he rode the metro. The 50-year-old is convinced that the culprits were a group of girls who asked him to fill in a questionnaire.

Li Qi, a 21-year-old student in Paris, was robbed in broad daylight, but no one came to her aid: "I was talking to a friend on my phone at the foot of Montmartre when a guy suddenly snatched my phone and ran away. I shouted for help, but it was no use - it seems people around here are used to robberies, especially in the 18th arrondissement."

In a bid to counter the increasing number of crimes perpetrated against Chinese tourists in Paris, Bernard Cazeneuve, France's minister of the interior, has invited Chinese police to work alongside French officers on the city's streets later this year.

Patrols, translation

It will be the first time that Chinese police have been deployed in a foreign city in support of a local force. The police liaison office of the Chinese embassy in Paris will oversee the officers' training, but no details of the program have been disclosed.

Stay alert, embassy tells travelers

According to the official website of the Chinese embassy in France, public safety levels in France are good overall. However, tourist attractions, public places and certain neighborhoods in Paris, Marseille and a number of other cities have seen many tourists, especially those from China, become the victims of crime. Now that the tourist season is getting underway, the embassy is reminding Chinese citizens to be vigilant against thieves and take measures to avoid injury and the loss of personal property.

Of the 20 arrondissements in Paris, the 10th and 11th in the east, and the 18th and 19th in the north, are relatively poor in terms of personal safety, and snatch-and-grab robberies are frequent occurrences. The embassy has urged Chinese tourists to avoid those districts.

The embassy reminded visitors that crimes often take place at airports, railway stations and other public places. In addition, visitors should be alert to the dangers posed by pickpockets at famous tourist attractions.

An unnamed senior officer from the Office of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Public Security told People's Daily that Chinese and French officials are in discussions about the role the Chinese detachment - consisting of eight to 10 French-speaking officers - will play, and that details of the talks will be published soon.

The officers will conduct joint patrols with their French counterparts to facilitate communication with Chinese tourists in need of assistance, and to strengthen supervision at popular attractions.

"This is a good policy to pursue. It's a new type of service, but the cooperation between us will generate some good results," said Cazeneuve.

Figures from Parisian police confirm the high crime rate. Official statistics show that in the first 10 months of 2013, crime rates in certain districts of Paris were much higher than in the rest of France: 7.5 percent higher in terms of physical violence, 10.5 percent higher in crimes against property, 26 percent higher in scams, and 31 percent higher in terms of burglary.

Once Chinese police receive reports of tourists in difficulty, or complaints about crimes such as robbery, they will help their French counterparts deal with the incident, especially at the translation level, but they will not be armed and will not have the power to make arrests.

"This shows that Paris has finally started to address the concerns of Chinese tourists, who regularly fall victim to pickpockets and other thieves," said Xie Yanjun, a professor at the China Tourism Academy in Beijing. "The primary reason Chinese people are targeted is that they are renowned for having cash on them," he added, referring to the fact that the yuan is not easily convertible and many Chinese people either distrust credit cards, or are unable to use them in the host country, resulting in tourists often carrying large amounts of the local currency.

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