Photos: Barcelona's Police Target the City's Notorious Pickpockets

Barcelona's pickpockets tend to work in teams, because they know undercover cops are hunting them.
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Photos: Barcelona's Police Target the City's Notorious Pickpockets Winston Ross for Newsweek

Petty crime has become not only Barcelona's primary nuisance but also a threat to its tourism industry.

The police say the scourge took the Spanish city by surprise after it became a hot tourist attraction following the 1992 Olympics here. In 2009, thievery had become such a problem that TripAdvisor dubbed Barcelona the world's biggest haven for pickpockets. Over the next three years, the number of minor thefts in Spain jumped by 18.5 percent, according to the Spanish daily El Pais.

The city is trying to reverse its reputation as a pickpocket's paradise with a team of 30 experienced Guardia Urbana officers who focus exclusively on pickpockets and purse-snatchers.

From left, Angel Pérez Vizcaya and Victor Márquez scan Las Ramblas, one of Barcelona’s most tourist-heavy boulevards, for pickpockets. The officers are two of 30 cops on an elite task force, Barcelona’s Guardia Urbana, whose sole focus is petty crime. Winston Ross for Newsweek