Greek Debt Crisis Adds to a Spike in Burglaries and Robberies

ATHENS — One evening three weeks ago in Kifissia, an affluent garden suburb of Athens, a retired financial adviser and his wife decided to take in one of the delights of summer here, an outdoor movie.

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They pulled tight the shutters, set the alarm, locked the house and strolled off. Halfway through the movie the alarm company called, and they rushed home to find the alarm immersed in a bucket of water, the shutters jimmied and a safe emptied of jewelry. The speed and sophistication of the crime were astonishing, the financial adviser’s wife said, still feeling vulnerable and not willing to be identified by name.

“They knew they had 10 minutes until the police came; they put everything in a pillowcase, and they were gone,” she said.

At seemingly every dinner gathering in Athens this summer, the conversation turns to tales of break-ins, burglaries and robberies that have accompanied the government debt crisis.

Even before the crisis shut down the banks and limited the availability of cash, crime of this sort was ticking upward.

But in the weeks before capital controls were imposed at the end of June, billions of euros fled the Greek banking system. Greeks feared that their euro deposits might be automatically converted to a new currency if Greece left the eurozone and would quickly lose value, or that they would face a “haircut” to their accounts if their bank failed amid the stresses of the crisis.

While the rich may have moved their money to Switzerland, Luxembourg or safe deposit boxes, the middle class has stashed not just cash but gold and jewelry, among other valuables, under the proverbial mattress.

Greek crime statistics released last week hinted at a dark side to the secreting of all those valuables. Across Greece, the most serious crime is down or stable over all, but reports of burglaries and robberies were on the rise for the first six months of the year, suggesting that the hidden valuables had become enticing targets for thieves.

The increases in crime are small, and it is hard to parse how much is driven by economic hard times, rising poverty and unemployment, and how much is opportunistic, with more soft targets out there.

The cash dependency also began at the end of the period, so its impact will not be fully reflected until new data is released.

But with the number of robberies in banks, gas stations and supermarkets falling while those in homes and shops are rising, several experts said, a pattern seems to be emerging suggesting that, as the bank robber Willie Sutton might have said, the bad guys are going where the money is.

“Many people have taken their money into their homes, so this is understandable,” a police spokesman in Athens said, on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to interpret the data. “Crime has stayed about the same over all, or gone down in the high-risk places, like banks, and up in the soft targets, like on the streets.”

The thieves are most likely part of organized rings, not poor people, said Mary Mantouvalou, a lawyer in the legal aid department of the Athens Bar Association.

“A poor person, when he goes to steal, he’ll go to a supermarket, he’ll go to someone known to him who has money,” Ms. Mantouvalou said. “We’re talking about much more serious crime. Sometimes they are violent. They are willing to go as far as necessary.”

Among those arrested in July, the police said, have been a gang preying on older adults who took money out of bank branches, and a young man accused of committing 13 house burglaries in four affluent suburbs over the past few months. At one house in the suburb of Papagou, he and his accomplices took jewelry and valuables worth 40,000 euros, or about $44,000, the police said.

Having learned that thieves will go straight to the safe in the closet or the secretaire, Greeks have tried to find more imaginative hiding places, like storage sheds, she said.

“But crime always goes one step ahead of the people and the state,” she said, “so they search in the sheds and don’t even go into the houses.”

Over all, security consciousness is rising. It is common to see clusters of uniformed police officers outside the automated teller machines where people line up for their cash ration, especially at bank branches frequented by vulnerable pensioners.

Many apartment doors have sprouted new security locks with heavy metal plates, similar to the locks used in safes.

Razor wire bristles from garden gates where there were none last summer. Athenians now remind one another to watch out for chain snatchers on the street, to bolt their front doors and to close balcony doors at night.

The anti-immigrant, neo-fascist party Golden Dawn has seized on crime as a political tool, using it to cultivate loyalty by escorting older adults to the bank so they would not be robbed by “foreigners.”

And the United States State Department warned this year that while Athens is generally safe, tourists should beware of pickpocketing and purse snatching in crowded tourist areas and on buses and the Metro.

The homeowner in Kifissia can recite other recent thefts. One friend’s home was broken into by burglars who used a blowtorch to silence the alarm; another friend’s heavy-duty lock was cut out with a power tool; and three burglars invaded the house of the best man at her wedding, tied up and beat the maid, yanked the safe out of the wall and escaped with cash and jewelry.

After the homeowner’s own burglary, the gardener found a wallet, apparently dropped by the thieves, with the identity card of what she presumes is another victim, who lives in Glyfada on the opposite side of Athens.

In 2010, an earlier wave of the Greek crisis, there was an increase in street robberies and homicides in Athens.

So far this year in the Athens region, there were 6,600 home break-ins, up from 6,319 during the same time last year, part of a 6.2 percent rise in burglaries. Robberies rose 13.6 percent, including a 6.4 percent increase in robberies in homes. Shop burglaries rose 20.8 percent, to 2,575 from 2,131. Petty theft in public spaces like beaches and parks rose 38 percent, to 2,392 from 1,732, the police said, and mobile phone robberies also rose sharply.

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