Police launch Christmas crack-down in Vienna
Vienna's police have launched two major initiatives to target burglars and crack down on aggressive beggars in the run up to Christmas and the New Year.
The first stage of the initiative is in response to the huge seasonal increase in break-ins and burglaries that occur in November, December and January.
A team of around 140 officers from Penzing to Dobling are engaged in special patrols, and have set up road blocks on several key roads to inspect suspicious vehicles.
From 7pm on six main arterial roads, police checkpoints have been interviewing drivers and passengers, and checking for signs of criminal activity, especially drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
During one check on the Penzinger road, three suspects were found in a vehicle carrying several tool cases, one of which was apparently stolen. They claimed to have bought the tools at a flea-market in Schwechat.
In another case, two suspects were arrested on suspicion of breaking into vending machines.
Checks are also being carried out for stolen vehicles heading out of the country, with demand among thieves especially high for luxury brands, such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche.
For burglars, light commercial vehicles such as white vans are particular preferred, and their contents are being carefully checked and drivers identified. Some vehicles which are not roadworthy have also been intercepted, and drivers with expired or suspended licenses have been charged.
Christmas Markets are very popular in Vienna, but not only with locals and tourists. Each year, there are increasing reports of beggars, some of whom are becoming more aggressive than usual in asking for a handout.
According to the head of the police group for emergency measures Walter Hillerer: "The people in the markets and shopping streets not only feel disturbed, many are afraid."
A special police team has been set up which have been patrolling markets, shopping malls and subways on a regular basis since Monday, looking for beggars and responding to complaints from the public.
Since many of the beggars come from Romania, each of the teams is accompanied by a member of the Romanian police, who can communicate with them.
Many of the beggars are well-known to the police, and some have incurred more than €4,000 in fines. When they are caught, they are fined again.
Police say that they want to make Vienna "uneconomic" for the begging mafia.
Vienna resident John M. told The Local that an on-duty police officer at parliament recently told him that there is an "organised crime syndicate operating on Rathausplatz. The band of children -- consisting of boys and girls -- were groomed in Italy and pick the pockets of unsuspecting visitors - beware!", recalling Charles Dickens' Artful Dodger.
He also said that people should not have open bags or carry purses, wallets or valuables in any bag or pocket that is easily accessible. Men should carry wallets in front trouser pockets. Especially, they should avoid carrying rucksacks, as they are easy pickings from behind.