POLICING THE MOTORWAY CRIME NETWORKS
Mark Nolan / 2012-08-16 17:36:47
The Spanish authorities have hit back at recent reports over “highway robberies”, by detailing the results of action already completed to combat the increasing risk of gangs who operate on the nation´s motorway network.
For a number of years, rest areas on the AP-7 motorway in Valencia and Catalonia have become favourite places for several groups of criminals to steal money and valuables, taking advantage of the carelessness and naivety of their victims, mostly tourists.
Often, cases have revolved around innocent motorists stopping at motorway service stations for a rest or for fuel, who would then fall victim to the gangs who would be lurking, waiting for the right moment, and the lack of police presence, to enable them to rob the victims by various distraction techniques.
Methods often vary, but sometimes included a seemingly innocent or lost traveller engaging in conversation with the driver of a vehicle, perhaps asking for directions or for help, which would enable other gang members to swoop, stealing the belongings from the vehicles and sometimes the cars themselves, often with total disregard for other occupants. Other distractions involve pretending to be the police, showing fake identity documents, sometimes demanding fines and again, often using this method as a distraction in which the other members of the teams can operate.
A fresh wave of robberies in the summer has forced the head of the Guardia Civil in Valencia to study how and where these thieves often act, so as to allow them to take the necessary action before incidents occur. As a result, routine controls and checkpoints have been launched in various service stations and lay-bys, both day and night, in the hope of catching the perpetrators before they act.
Although it may not come as a surprise to you or I, the results found that the criminals often chose to avoid these patrolled areas, thus reducing the number of incidents where the police were present, although it is also thought that the offenders may have simply moved on to other, unpatrolled areas.
In addition to these crime prevention methods, police pressure has also results in arrests and severe blows to organized criminal groups. One such case revolved around a gang of five thieves who were dismantled earlier this year, who had been operative on the AP-7 through Valencia and Cataluña.
The latest major arrest occurred on the 30th of July, when a gang who operated on the Alicante coast were arrested, all of Romanian origin, and all found to have been selling their stolen goods on.
Before this summer season, the Guardia Civil had disbanded three groups acting mainly in the provinces of Barcelona, Tarragona and Castellón, all found to have been using the distraction method of robbery, during which these thieves would puncture a wheel of the vehicle, or sometimes throw stones at their victim´s car, to force tourists to stop the car on the roadside. Then key distracter would then pose as a helpful, friendly, fellow motorist, clearing the way for other members of the gang to swoop steeling valuables from inside the vehicle. Handbags, wallets, phones and laptops ended up in the hands of criminals in minutes.
Some thieves do not hesitate to use violence when discovered. On 27th of February this year, three thugs who had just steal a purse from a Moroccan woman with a car ran over two people who tried to prevent their escape. The incident occurred in the area of service Benicarló, but the Guardia Civil did successfully arrest the three criminals after intercepting the vehicle in Sagunto.
On 28th April, the Catalan police arrested two men involved in several robberies on the AP-7 in the section between La Jonquera and Castellón. These individuals would pose as police officers to commit some of their crimes and they carried fake identity badges of the National Police.
These arrests and police checks have all added to improve the security of the motorway network, although vigilance must still be exercised. Most of the target areas are in remote locations, difficult for the police to attend with any speed, which is what makes the area rich for the criminal gangs. However, that aside, the authorities are also now installing automatic license plate readers, surveillance cameras, private security patrols and improving the lighting of parking areas. Technology aside though, as the report from the Guardia Civil already proves, none of technological advances can replace the most simple crime prevention method known throughout history, that of a visible police presence, but with government cuts in every sector, reliance on technology, vigilance and an element of good luck, may all combine to try to make the roadways safer for us all.