US Embassy Security Advice

Safety Tips from the U.S. Embassy

Overall Crime and Safety Situation
France is a relatively safe country. Most crimes are non-violent. The majority of crimes directed against foreign visitors, including U.S. citizens, involve pick-pocketing, residential break-ins, bicycle theft, and other forms of theft with minimal violence. However, robberies involving physical assault do occur in major urban areas. Crimes against visitors are generally crimes of opportunity, though these crimes are more likely to involve violence on the street late at night or if the victim resists the criminal.  Crime in Paris is similar to that in most large cities. Violent crime is relatively uncommon in the city center.  The office of American Services replaces about 3,000 passports that are lost or stolen in Paris each year.  From all these cases, they have gleaned the following advice for visitors and residents to Paris.

Pickpockets
Pickpockets are by far the most significant problem. In addition to purses and wallets, smart phones and small electronic devices are particular targets. In Paris, pickpockets can be any gender, race, or age and are commonly children under the age of 16 because they are difficult to prosecute. Pickpockets are very active on the rail link (RER B) from Charles de Gaulle Airport to the city center. In addition, passengers on the Metro line 1, which traverses the city center from east to west and services many major tourist sites, are often targeted.

Tourist Traps
Many thefts also occur at the major department stores (e.g., Galeries Lafayette, Printemps, and Le Bon Marché), where tourists may leave wallets, passports, and credit cards on cashier counters during transactions. Popular tourist sites are also popular with thieves, who favor congested areas to mask their activities. The crowded elevators at the Eiffel Tower, escalators at museums, and the area surrounding Sacré Coeur Basilica in Montmartre are all favored by pickpockets and snatch-and-run thieves. There have been some instances of tourists being robbed and assaulted near less populated Metro stations. Other areas in Paris where extra security precautions are warranted after dark are Les Halles and the Pigalle area.  Note that many nightclubs in Pigalle engage in very aggressive marketing, charging exorbitant rates for drinks. Hidden charges of 500-600 euros for drinks are not uncommon, and there have been reports of threats to coerce customers into paying these charges by physically preventing customers from leaving until the tab is settled.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence
Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns
The government maintains a threat rating system, known locally as “Vigipirate,” similar to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Advisory System. Under this plan, the government routinely augments police with armed forces and increases visibility at airports, train and metro stations, and other high-profile locations such as schools, major tourist attractions, and government installations. Over the last few years, there have been arrests of suspected Islamic militants involved in terrorist plots. French authorities have spoken about the heightened threat conditions for terrorist attacks in Europe. Information is routinely shared between the United States and France in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, to identify and take action against potential operatives, and to strengthen defenses against potential threats.

Although U.S. citizens have not been targeted specifically in terrorist attacks in the past few years, travelers should remain vigilant. Immediately report unattended packages observed in public places or any other suspicious activities to law enforcement authorities. They are proactive and will respond immediately. If there is a security incident or suspicious package, do not linger in the area to observe.

Government Help
Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs internet website at http://travel.state.gov, where the current Country Specific Information, Current Travel Warning, Current Travel Alerts, Worldwide Caution, and other Travel Alerts and Travel Warnings can be found.

Civil Unrest/ Demonstrations
Political violence is relatively uncommon. Large demonstrations in Paris are generally managed by a strong police presence, but such events have the potential to become dangerous and should be avoided. In addition, the congestion caused by large demonstrations can cause serious inconveniences for a visitor on a tight schedule. Likewise, some sporting events, such as soccer matches, have occasionally degenerated into violence that continued into the streets.

Political unrest has developed in some Francophone countries with historic ties to France (e.g., Algeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia, Mali). Some French citizens and residents with ties to such countries have protested in front of the countries’ embassies or consulates in response to the unrest. Although these protests are infrequent and do not target Americans, visitors should avoid such demonstrations.

Street Crime
Unfortunately there is no fool-proof method to avoid becoming a victim of street crime.  The single most effective defense is to be fully aware of your surroundings.  A surprise attack affords the criminal the best chance of successfully committing the crime and escaping.  Visually identifying suspicious persons around you takes away the element of surprise.  The suggestions listed below can help you avoid an attack or injury.

Tips on How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Crimes/Scams
A common pickpocketing method is for one thief to distract the tourist with questions or disturbances, while an accomplice picks pockets, a backpack, or a purse. Schemes in Paris include asking if you would sign a petition or take a survey and presenting a ring and asking if you dropped it. Thieves often time their pickpocket attempts to coincide with the closing of the automatic doors on the Metro, leaving the victim secured on the departing train.

Areas to be avoided and Best Security Practices
Visitors to adult entertainment districts, such as the Pigalle metro area, should take particular care at night. Additionally, public parks, particularly Bois de Boulogne, should be avoided after dark, as they are often frequented by drug dealers and prostitutes.  Common sense security precautions will help you enjoy a trouble-free stay. Most problems can be avoided by being aware of one’s surroundings and avoiding high-risk areas.

While on foot, remain aware of your surroundings and keep bags slung across the body, with the bag hanging away from the street. Many U.S. citizens have had purses or bags stolen from the back of a chair or from under the table while in restaurants and nightclubs/bars. Keep your valuables with you and do not leave them unattended or out of your sight.

Carry only essential items. Avoid carrying high-value jewelry and large amounts of cash. Valuables should be kept out of sight and in places difficult for thieves to reach, such as internal coat pockets or in pouches hung around the neck or inside clothes. Shoulder bags and wallets in hip pockets are an invitation to a thief. Visitors to congested areas and known tourist sites (e.g., museums, monuments, train stations, airports, and subways) should be particularly attentive to their surroundings. Crowded elevators and escalators at tourist sites and crowded metro cars should raise awareness levels. When possible, take a seat or stand against a wall to deter pickpockets and try to maintain a 360-degree awareness of the surrounding area.

Be aware that thieves often operate in groups and will come to each other’s aid if confronted. If a thief is caught in the act, a simple pick-pocketing could turn into an assault (or worse) if an attempt is made to capture the thief. The best response would be to verbally alert both the thief and bystanders that you are aware of his/her activity. With the thief detected and others aware, the thief will likely flee.

Keep photocopies of travel documents and credit cards separate from the originals, along with key telephone numbers to contact banks for credit card replacement. Do not leave valuables in hotel rooms. If you must leave valuables in the hotel, consider using the hotel safe.

Do not use ATMs in isolated, poorly lighted areas or where loiterers are present. Be especially aware of persons standing close enough to see the Personal Identification Number (PIN) being entered into the machine. Thieves often conduct successful scams by simply watching the PIN as it is entered and then stealing the card from the user in some other location. If the card gets stuck in the machine, you should immediately report it to the bank where the machine is located as well as to your bank back home.

Keep doors locked and valuables out of sight.

Many theft and assault victims are targeted when making their way home from a late night out after drinking alcohol. If you go out late at night, do so with a group of friends. There is safety in numbers.

Police Response
Where to Turn to for Assistance if you Become a Victim of Crime
In an emergency, dialing 17 will connect the caller to the police. You can also dial the Europe-wide emergency response number 112 to reach an operator for all kinds of emergency services (similar to the U.S. 911 system). Non-French speakers may experience a delay while an English speaker is located.

For non-emergency assistance, visitors should go to the nearest police station (commissariat) in order to file an official report.

Various Police/Security Agencies
Public safety and security are maintained by three different forces:  Municipal Police, National Police, and the military Gendarmerie. These services are professional, competent, and pro-active in fighting crime and violence and maintaining overall state security.

Medical Emergencies
Medical care is comparable to that found in the United States. In an emergency, dialing 15 will connect the caller to emergency medical services or 112 will reach an operator for all kinds of emergency services (similar to the U.S. 911 system). Non-French speakers may experience a delay while an English speaker is located.

U.S. Embassy/Consulate Location and Contact Information
U.S. Embassy Paris 2 avenue Gabriel 75008 Paris  http://france.usembassy.gov/
Hours: Monday-Friday 8:00 am–5:00 pm
Switchboard: Tel. +33 1 43 12 22 22
Regional Security Officer, Greg Hays, Tel. +33 1 43 12 21 19, Fax. +33 1 43 12 29 40

OSAC Country Council Information
The OSAC France Country Council can be reached at OSACFrance@state.gov.

Registering with the U.S. Embassy

The cornerstone of our efforts to keep the American traveling public aware of problems threatening their safety and security is our Consular Information Program. Travel registration is a free service provided by the U.S. Government to U.S. citizens who are traveling to, or living in, a foreign country. Registration allows you to record information about your upcoming trip abroad that the Department of State can use to assist you in case of an emergency. Americans residing abroad can also get routine information from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. You may register online at https://step.state.gov/step/

Self-Defense Advice

Look for individuals who are maintaining the same walking pace behind you.  If you are concerned that someone is following you or otherwise acting suspicious, make eye contact.  Let the individual know that you are aware of their presence.  This eliminates the element of surprise.  However, it is generally advisable for women to avoid making eye contact with men in the metro. Unfortunately, this can often provoke an unwelcome conversation and/or harassment.

If possible, enter a store or public place and observe the suspicious individual’s actions. If there are no stores nearby, cross the street and move quickly to a well-traveled street. Know your neighborhood.  At night avoid unlighted areas, alleyways or parks.  Find out where the nearest police station and medical facility are located.  When arriving at or departing your residence scan the area first.  Pay particular attention to areas where an attacker could hide (i.e. bushes, parked cars, doorways, etc.)

No matter where you are, make sure to know at least 2 different means of exiting the building you’re in, in order to leave quickly in case of fire.

The date rape drug also exists in France. Always be careful and watch your drink when you go to clubs.

DO NOT RESIST.  Anything the attacker may steal can be replaced except your health or life.

DO NOT CHASE THE ASSAILANT(S).  He may have accomplices that you are not aware of or a weapon.  The assailant wants to escape and his adrenaline, like the victim’s, is high.  He will do almost anything to escape, include using extreme violence.  As soon as possible after an attack call the Police. Obtain a police report (usually the next day) and get any other emergency assistance you may need.  As soon as possible after the attack write down what you remember about the attacker(s) and the circumstances of the attack.  The sooner information is recorded after a criminal incident the more accurate it is.

Contact your credit card companies as soon as possible to cancel any cards that may have been taken. Furthermore, we advise you to write down your credit card numbers and keep them in a safe place in case a card is stolen and you have to report the numbers.
Developing a survival mind set: No one has the right to harm you or the ones you love, but violence does exist and it can touch your life at any time. If it does happen, and you aren’t mentally prepared to deal with it, you will most likely become frozen in fear. The best way to avoid this is to develop a survival mind set. Imagine yourself in a dangerous situation and visualize what actions you might take to survive and escape, the key is to address your fears before you are confronted with them. While it is unpleasant to visualize yourself as the victim of a rape, robbery or assault, it’s necessary to prepare the mind to deal with the trauma. Preparation (while you’re still in a safe environment) is the key.

Trust your instincts: Learn to trust your instincts and listen to what your intuition tells you. Trust those “little voices” when they tell you that something (or someone) “just doesn’t look right.” All of your senses should come to full alert, and you should be prepared to take action (if it’s necessary) to get out of the situation or away from that person as fast as possible.

Avoid presenting a victim profile: Crime victims are frequently chosen because they are easy targets. Criminals prey on the weak or unsuspecting, and usually avoid people who are aware of what’s going on and might put up a fight. When out in public, look people in the eye, keep your head up, and walk with a confident stride. This tells the predator that you are more likely to see him coming and resist. Without the element of surprise, they will likely pass you up for someone who’ll put up less of a fight.

Lights, people and noise: “Just use good common sense and remember to pay attention to what’s happening around you, and you will go a long way towards keeping yourself safe…” Always remember that your greatest allies are lights, people and noise. These are the three things that criminals fear most, because they increase the likelihood that they will be seen or caught. Whenever possible travel in groups and in open, populated areas – especially at night. Steer clear of dark areas or isolated places where criminals will have the advantage – especially if you are by yourself.

Your first priority is escape: If you do end up in a dangerous situation, remember that your number one priority is not to fight, but to escape. Obviously, the best plan is not to be there in the first place, but if you do find yourself in trouble, don’t hesitate to take every available escape route. If you are confronted and you cannot immediately escape, you may want to consider complying, at least until you can escape. When faced with someone who demands your wallet, purse, jewelry etc… – give it to them, and get out of there. No possession, however valuable, is worth risking your life over.

You must react quickly: One of the greatest challenges to defending yourself is that in the real world (unlike in the movies) acts of violence usually happen very quickly. When an attack occurs suddenly (even though there are usually warning signs), you are at an extreme disadvantage, if you are not prepared to react.

SAFEGUARDS YOU CAN TAKE:
For Personal Security

  • When walking, do not carry your purse by the handle or strap. Keep it close to your body.
  • Never leave your purse lying on a counter or in a shopping cart. Always keep closures fastened.
  • Walk only on well-lighted, well-traveled streets. Avoid parks, dark parking lots and construction areas after dark.
  • Walk near the curb rather than near buildings, alleys or shrubbery.
  • If you believe you are being followed as you walk, turn around and look. If you are in danger, you can prepare to deal with it.
  • If, while you are walking, you are accosted by someone in a car, run in a direction opposite to the way the car is traveling. In the time it takes the car to turn around, you can be gone.
  • Do not hold your cellphone in public.

Home Security

  • Always lock every door of your home.
  • Never open your door until you know who is standing on the other side. Repair or delivery persons can be identified by their identification cards by calling their places of employment.
  • Have your keys in your hand, both to and from your home. Keep the key you intend to use poised in a position so it could be used as a weapon. Know which way your key goes into the lock.
  • If you find evidence that an intruder has entered your home, DO NOT ENTER. Call police immediately from a nearby house.
  • If you are hesitant about entering an elevator with a stranger, wait for the next elevator. When in the elevator, stand close to the control panel and know where the alarm is located.
  • Carry a whistle in your hand or around your wrist. Use it if you feel threatened.
  • Do not allow anyone to follow you into your building. Just because the person is holding a key, it does not mean the key fits the door to your building.
  • Do not give personal information to strangers over the phone, or let the caller know that you are home alone.
  • If you receive a “wrong number” call, never disclose your phone number or name. Ask what number the caller is trying to reach and instruct the caller to dial again.
  • REMAIN ALERT AND AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS.

SAFEGUARDS YOU CAN TAKE: Be aware of those times and places where there is a potential for attack.  –parking lots – walking at night  – waiting for a bus – elevators