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January 11, 2011

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Bus thieves beware as police pounce

SHANGHAI police launched an anti-pickpocket campaign across the city yesterday, targeting buses and bus stations in a bid to crack down on the crime that usually peaks before the Spring Festival.

Shanghai Daily was present when five teams of officers set off about 6:30am and saw the first suspect caught on a No. 67 bus about 8:10am.

The suspect, Li Chao, was caught after he had stolen a compact from a woman's bag. She hadn't noticed a thing.

"We knew he was a thief as soon as we saw him," said a senior detective surnamed Chen who had followed Li to the bus station.

Chen, who has been catching thieves for more than 30 years, said he and other detectives had tracked Li on a No. 69 bus from near East China Normal University.

His behavior had all the hallmarks of a hardened thief, Chen said.

The 44-year-old, short and slim and wearing a black jacket and brown shoes, first leaned his empty backpack, on his left shoulder, on to the young woman and used his left hand to open her bag.

It took just seconds for his hand to stretch into the bag, grab something and put into his pocket - everything witnessed by the detective standing behind him.

"I didn't know what had happened at all until I saw my compact falling on the ground after the man was caught," the woman said. "I was going to work and the bus was crowded and I didn't realize that someone was stealing from me."

Police records showed that Li had been caught and punished 10 times for stealing from 2001 to 2007 and had a history of drug abuse.

Meanwhile, another suspect was caught about 9am by another squad on Pudong Avenue in the Pudong New Area after the theft of a wallet with 2,800 yuan (US$422) from a migrant worker.

The victim, surnamed Tian, said he was carrying tools and blankets from one construction site to another, and the wallet was in his pocket.

"The money was all of my payment for the last project," Tian told Shanghai Daily.

Police said the suspect had targeted Tian and stole from him when he tried to get off a bus.

"I guess I was bending down to lift my luggage when he took my wallet," Tian said. Tian did not realize his wallet had been stolen until he got on another bus.

But officers had seen everything and got it back to him in just 20 minutes.

Police said the thief jumped off the bus after taking the wallet and ran across the road to hail a taxi. Officers stopped him before he could get away.

Police said people should be on alert and take care of their belongings while on buses, especially when getting on and off during rush hours.

"The suspects like to use the crowded conditions to steal and sometimes they squeeze in to create a crowded situation on purpose," said a senior detective surnamed Lu.

A police spokesman said theft cases on buses were 15 percent higher this month than in the same period last year.

More than 200 officers have been deployed to catch pickpockets in this year's anti-theft campaign.


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