Having moved to a new location, particularly a foreign country, your susceptibility to falling victim to a crime is always higher than it would be in a city with which you are familiar. Until you know the city, and where the safe and not so safe areas are located, it is a good idea to be particularly aware of where you are and to follow safety precautions at all times.
Leaving children unattended, walking in unknown neighborhoods alone, leaving your handbag in the shopping cart in the grocery store, or leaving your car unlocked, are all situations that invite problems. The following information will hopefully be of value in helping you to avoid becoming a victim of the more prevalent crimes committed in the area.
There are two kinds of police, both local and national varieties. The police force (Police Municipale) of the villages, towns and cities of France are responsible for local petty crime and traffic. The Police Nationale are responsible for more serious crimes, as well as those which cross city and departmental boundaries. Other divisions include the CID and the CRS (national guard) which are essentially riot police. These entities are often called upon to perform less serious duties such as patrolling the Côte d’Azur during the summer season. Sometimes these divisions aid border forces (patrouilles frontalières), acting in a customs capacity.
Since the borders of France, as well as those of the other European Union have become open, upon the advent of the Schengen Agreement, border checks by the Douanes volantes, or ‘wandering’ customs, are less frequent. EU nationals and those with residence permits may circulate in the Schengen Area without passport controls. All tourists may be checked, however, especiall at airports.
However, customs officials can stop you for a routine check anywhere they want to. Beacuse of the proximity of tax-free Andorra, customs checks are regular on the N20 road. Customs activity continues to function at the airports and other ports of entry. Because of terrorist bombings that can occur, you may be searched, especially in train and metro stations. These searches are to insure the security of everyone. Not all French policemen and women (agents de police) aregendarmes. The Gendarmerie Nationale is a special paramilitary police, officially part of the army and often the only police force in many rural areas.
Many crimes in Toulouse are classified as petty, even though you may not think it’s so petty should it happen to you! Examples of such “petty” crimes are car theft and break-ins, purse snatching, stolen wallets, burglary and mugging. The police tend to be very helpful with foreigners who have been the victim of a crime. When calling the police, try to determine if they are the police station with jurisdiction for the particular crime that has been committed. Beware, Toulouse has many beggars, especially during summer months and some of them are very smart thieves — so they should not be underestimated.
Valuable cars and mini-vans frequently fall victim to theft. NEVER leave your registration (carte grise) nor insurance papers in a car, nor anything visible that is valuable. Lock them in the trunk of the car. Or, carry them with you. Call the police as soon as possible to report a stolen vehicle. It is very important to act quickly so as to increase the chances of recovering the vehicle. Lock all doors when you are leaving your car even if you are to be gone only a moment.
Cars can be broken into and valuables taken in the blink of an eye, so be careful of items left in a car, even if they are hidden. It’s not uncommon to see people walking around carrying their car radios “in hand,” rather than leaving it as a temptation for a thief. New radio models with off-lifting facades are worthwhile, since the radio cannot work without the facade with which it came orginally.
Keep car doors locked at all times whilst driving, alone or accompanied. Purses have been snatched from the passenger seats while the car is stopped at a red traffic light or when slowing down. Motorcyclists have been known to reach through an open window and grab handbags. A suggestion would be to put the non-utilized passenger seat belt through the handbag strap, or wrap it around your handbrake lever. If you must carry a purse, carry it securely under your arm. Many women loop their purse strap over their head and slide their handbag in front of them.
Avoid pulling a wallet out on the street if possible. One way to accomplish this is to carry a small change purse, with only a “necessary amount” of change and currency. I f that is taken from your hands, you will have lost only a minimal sum instead of everything in a wallet. Men should carry their wallets in a front pockets when walking around on crowded streets. Lost or stolen credit cards should be reported to the bank (faire opposition) immediately. Your bank will provide a phone number to call when you open your account. Be aware of who is around you when taking money from an automatic teller machine. Put cash and your card away before leaving the machine, not while walking away. Toulouse is a nice city, but remember it is a big city!
As in any large city, burglary is a common crime. Taking precautions, however, will minimize the chance of your house being burglarized. The first rule is not to tell everyone you are going to be away. Tell only those people who will be caring for your house, feeding your pets, or retrieving your mail. Thieves have been known to watch a house to determine if there’s a pattern, or everyday schedule. Note strange cars suddenly parked in your neighborhood, or slowly driving up and down the street. Always lock your house when leaving, even if you will be away for a short period of time. For extended absences, ask a friend to pick up your mail or have the post office hold it until your return. Also, remember that you must close and lock your shutters, if you are to be away for more than twenty-four hours, in order for your home insurance to be effective. (See Chapter 5, Housing – Insurance.)
If you were burglarized in your absence and your shutters were open, your insurance may be invalid, depending upon your insurance policy. If you live in an apartment with a main entrance security system, do not unlock the entry door if you don’t recognize the voice over the intercom, particularly if you were not expecting a visitor.
Although rare, mugging does indeed take place in Toulouse. This crime is most likely to occur in the more disreputable neighborhoods (around the central train station, the Gare Matabiau, and between rue Bayard and Allées Jean Jaurès) but it can happen anywhere, day or night. Unfortunately, as a sign of our times, mugging and aggressive panhandling (begging) is on the increase. Muggers often frequent darkened areas, even those around churches. This, however, is not their exclusive location, as people have been mugged in launderettes. Be street smart and dress appropriately to the area in which you are traveling. Try to avoid walking in places with poor street lighting, or where there are a significant number of street people. If you find yourself doubting the wisdom of being where you are, walk very briskly, in the road, not on the sidewalk, toward a better-lit or more public area. Carry any significant amounts of money, credit cards, or valuable/important papers in your inside pockets, or otherwise concealed on your person..