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Paris police help Louvre ward off pickpockets

Ann Törnkvist · 7 Jun 2013, 09:52

Published: 07 Jun 2013 09:52 GMT+02:00

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"There has been a clear improvement," Paris police spokesman Bernard Boucault told French daily Le Parisien on Friday. 

"We managed to get this result in just a few weeks," he added, underscoring the close collaboration between the world-famous museum and local police.

In April, several employees vented their ire at "increasing numbers and increasingly aggressive" gangs of thieves who were roaming the halls of the enormous gallery. 

Plain-clothed police from the anti-criminality brigade (BAC), alongside backup from the Security and Intervention Squad (Compagnie de sécurisation et d'intervention - CSI) have worked closely with museum staff.

Notably, they have kept an eye out near the pyramid in the courtyard and made their presence known near the escalators which, they noted, were often used as lookout points by the more organized pickpockets.

"It makes them very visible to the thieves and has a dissuasive effect," one of the security personnel told Le Parisien. 

The thieves had been cleaning out visitors, notably in the halls where art lovers stop to gaze at the Mona Lisa and also the room showing the Venus de Milo.

However, they had also been louvre-gallery-closes-as-staff-strike-over-pickpockets" target="_blank">expanding their focus to museum employees, the representative told France TV in April when discontent over the situation neared boiling point.

Management at the museum said it had already lodged a complaint with prosecutors in December 2012 and demanded a greater police presence at one of the most visited museums in the world. Sorting out the pilfering problem was also top of the to-do list for the museum's newly appointed head Jean-Luc Martinez.

The impasse resulted in about 200 Louvre employers going on strike to draw attention to their plight, and to demand that action be taken.

Hundreds of staff also crowded outside the Culture Ministry, which received a delegation to discuss the problem.

The staff were "sometimes scared to work because they are confronted with organized gangs of pickpockets who are becoming more and more aggressive," said Christelle Guyader, spokeswoman from the trade union confederation SUD (Solidaires, unitaires et démocratiques).

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Guyader told AFP that the staff believed many of the thieves were getting into the museum for free because they accompanied minors. Arresting them had little effect, as staff noted the pickpockets would show up again in a matter of mere days. 

The staff believed the majority of pickpockets hailed from eastern Europe.

Museum employees also reported at the time that they have been victims of “spittings, insults, threats and physical assaults” and despite lodging several complaints to museum managers there had by April been little action. Museum directors said they had received 150 individual complaints in a document passed on to prosecutors in Paris.

“There have always been pickpockets at the Louvre and in tourist locations in Paris, but for the last year and a half the gangs have become increasingly violent and their modus operandi has become more complex. Nothing can stop them,” Sophie Aguirre, a supervisor in the museum said in April.

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

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