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Crime and Safety

France - Crime and Safety

There are a number of areas in France where petty crime is very bad. In the larger urban areas places such as railway stations, the underground and the main tourist attractions are all attractive for pickpockets and opportunist thieves. If you are in any of these areas the French police advise caution by not carrying too much cash and keeping a close eye on your purse or wallet. If you are driving a car with a foreign number plate then you may find it a target for thieves in busy cities so not leaving anything valuable in the car is essential.

If you are the victim of a theft you need to go along to the nearest ‘commissariat de police’ and they will help you to complete a statement. They will expect to see your passport and the vehicle documents if the theft is from your car, but it is mandatory to carry these with you anyway.

There are different numbers that you can call if you need the emergency services. Those who feel that they may have difficulty with the language can call 112, which is a number that reaches the emergency services no matter where you are in Europe. This number can be called no matter what type of phone you are using and it does not cost you anything. If you prefer you can contact the different emergency services individually.

If you need the fire service you dial 18. You should be aware that in rural areas these are staffed mainly by volunteers, but many of them have medical experience and they often help out with other emergencies such as car accidents. The ambulance service can be reached by dialling 15. Each department has its own head office for the ‘SAMU’ ambulance service and this will be where your call connects. The police can be contacted on 17 and if you need assistance while you are out at sea the coastguard and rescue services can be reached on 1616.

The crime rate overall in France is very similar to that of other European nations although it does tend to rise each year. The prison population in France is high and there is a policy of imposing tough sentences in an attempt to deter criminals, but this is a policy that is not really working. Drug crimes in particular are dealt with severely. However, the ratio of prisoners to general population is much lower than in the UK and the US. France does not have the death penalty and when prisoners are allowed out many still have to wear electronic tags. The maximum prison sentence that can be imposed is 30 years.

The majority of crimes that take place are against properties but violent crimes are still quite rare. Mugging is not a common crime but it does happen occasionally in the big cities. In some areas there are local security organisations which patrol near schools and around public buildings. Sexual harassment is considered to be a problem in France and women are advised to take care if they are out at night and should never hitchhike if they are on their own.

It is considered that the worst region for crime is southern coast of the country and the cities of Marseille and Nice in particular have a reputation for criminal activity. Marseille has the highest rates of organised crime in France and a number of separatist groups are active there and in Corsica. This is not to say that these areas are no-go areas and there plenty of neighbourhoods in both places that have few problems.

Crimes against properties are more frequent than any other type of crime and holiday homes are often the target. However, if you are living in a rural area you will find that crime of any kind is extremely rare and if you take the proper security precautions such as strong locks and a burglar alarm then you should not experience any problems.

Not all police officers in France carry guns. It is the policy in some areas for the police to be armed all the time and this applies mainly in the larger cities. It is rare for the police in rural areas to be armed but it does happen from time to time.

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