Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Safety and Security

A few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me an article about a serial rapist that is on the loose in Barcelona.  I won't lie when I said I was shocked by this article.  I have, for the most part, spent the last 4 years in a safety bubble when it comes to any crime beyond pickpocketing.  While realistically we live in a city, I knew that things happen but as I don't read the local news, I'm semi immune from all of these things.  Regardless of this information, is this city infinitely safer than many in the US - absolutely.

But the article brought me back down to reality.  Things happen and they happen everywhere.  It would be unrealistic to think otherwise.  And we need to be alert.  But it also reminded me about a post that I started eons ago but never finished.  So now is as good of a time as any.

This rapist is a rarity here.  Violent crime for the most part, is unheard of.  I found a cool website that does a side by side comparison - how accurate it is, I can't say. But it will give you an idea and the conclusion is that Spain is a pretty safe place to live.  Yes, there is a TON of petty theft here - wallets, pocketbooks, etc.  But not crime of the violent sort.  Does it suck to have your wallet or phone (or in my case, stroller as well) stolen?  Well of course it does - but I'd rather be pickpocketed than raped or murdered.  Just saying...

The petty theft forces you to be more aware of your surroundings, especially on the metro where pickpocketing is rampart.  Stores and shops close security gates to prevent thefts in their stores when they aren't open.  There are bells on a variety of stores that you need to buzz before being let in.  When we were in Switzerland a few weeks ago, I saw none of this which says something about how much of a problem it is here.

On the flip side, because of the lack of gun violence, you see things that you normally wouldn't see in other countries.  For instance, in the banks here, there is no bullet proof glass between you and a teller.  It is literally a desk and they often have a cash box similar to that of one you'd use if you were to host a yard or bake sale.  It has a simple lock and it's kept in a desk drawer next to them at the desk.  Same with the post office.  Even in my grocery store they often times keep the rolls of change on top of the register rather than inside of it for ease of access when they need it.  There just isn't a threat of robbery here that has created this need for barriers between vendors and their customers.

Yes, this is my local bank branch and as you can see there are no glass dividers, just a line of customers and a desk.

As far as personal safety, I've had to learn to be city savvy, something I definitely wasn't before coming here.  And by that, I mean being alert to my surroundings.  To not allowing myself to be distracted.  To keep my hand on my purse at all times.  It's become instinctual now that when someone approaches me, even for directions, that I immediately put my hand over the zipper of my purse.  Hey, pickpocketed once, shame on me... ok, pickpocketed twice, my fault again.  But try me again and you'd better run for your life.

Anyways, I'm digressing.  My personal safety.  I feel safe here.  I feel incredibly safe.  And being 4000 miles away from home, I'm seeing the US from a different light and it's not a rose colored one for sure. I look at my safety from a few different standpoints here - (1) fear of a home invasion, (2) fear of being mugged or attacked on the streets, (3) safety of my children in school.

So a fear of a home invasion.  I don't have one.  Our door is a pretty tough one and while I'm sure someone could hack thru it with something, I'd have to say that I don't think my neighbors would be pretty keen on letting that happen.  While I don't know most of my neighbors names, we recognize each other and it's obvious we look out for each other.  And during the spring, summer and fall there is a small youth hostel across the street (and ours is a narrow one lane street so that's pretty close) that has someone on duty 24 hours a day, often times smoking a butt outside with their guests.  So there is always someone kind of keeping an eye on the place.

That being said, it's still often a little nerve wracking not having Josh here during the week and no longer having a dog.  Not that Jake could have come to my defense in his last few years, but his presence was calming.  Regardless, I don't stress about someone breaking into my home whether I'm  here or not.  Does it happen in Barcelona...I'd have to be stupid to say it doesn't.  But I think like many things, it's location, location, location.  On the flip side, my next door neighbors in the States had the tires stolen off their car in their driveway in our suburban neighborhood.  People have been stealing copper piping out of homes that are empty.  I've no doubt that people are stealing pipes out of empty apartments here too though.  So I guess that one is a draw.

A fear of being mugged or attacked on the streets.  I think first of all, like anywhere else, you need to use common sense.  Don't go into an iffy neighborhood at 3 in the morning or you are asking to be mugged.  I wouldn't go to Dorchester at 3 in the morning either.  That's just being smart.  But during "normal" times do I feel in any way threatened?  Absolutely not.  Again, I'm aware of my surroundings.  In my neighborhood of Gracia, I absolutely feel 100% safe (and hope I'm not jinxing myself by saying that - knock on wood!).

As a runner, I'm out and about in my neighborhood several times a week by myself and focused on my running.  I think this is a different focus than that of someone who is out doing their grocery shopping (which I also do).  For some reason I think of runners as being a target, perhaps because they are often solitary and most likely in a zone... not to mention listening to their headphones.  Or maybe I've just watched too many crime shows.  I rarely would leave my neighborhood in Attleboro to go for a run - rather instead doing multiple laps over and over again in my neighborhood as an alternative.  Nor do I think I'd feel comfortable running around Boston proper either though I guess it all depends on the time of the day like anywhere else.  But yet here, for some reason, I feel good.  I feel safe.

And the big one, safety in our schools.  Aside from having a guard booth here, the fact that guns are illegal makes things 1000x safer than that in the US.  I honestly don't worry about my children's safety. However, does that mean I'm naive to think nothing could happen?  No, I'm not.  I saw the news yesterday about the child with the hit list at Hill Roberts Elementary (the school that the kids would be in if we were home in the US).  My first instinct is to think this poor kid is 9 and the list was probably nothing more than a list of kids that had hurt or embarrassed him - something that was never meant to be publicly aired that now will forever mark this child as a possible future killer.  But my next thought it, regardless of his intent, something like this can happen anywhere.  And while the child in the US could possibly (and I think it's unlikely at the age of 9 but you never know) have access to weapons, it's even less likely for a child here to have access to something like that.

But that doesn't mean our children don't need to be aware of their surroundings either, no matter where they are.  Schools are supposed to be safe but then I look at my friends in Sandy Hook and know that while the schools are for all intents and purposes, safe, if someone wants to get in and do harm, they will.  The boys and I have talked at length about both Sandy Hook and about the hit list.  It's a shame that they need to be made aware of atrocities in our society at such a young age but to be informed is to be empowered.

Regardless, I feel incredibly safe with the boys at school.  Their entire Nursery - Grade 12 is only as big as our elementary school at home.  It is a place where everyone knows your name (and yet, is not a bar based in Boston) or your kids.  Though I'm sure the same could be said for Sandy Hook and Hill Roberts as far as the closeness of the communities.  I guess what it comes down to is that nothing can be guaranteed but if I had to stack the odds, I'd say that (knock on wood), the kids are safer here in Spain than they would be in the US.  And knowing that there is a possibility that we are going home this summer, this is a concern for me.  A concern that I never worried about until I moved 4000 miles away and looked at the big picture from afar.

Beyond school, I feel safe with the kids in the city.  When we went home this summer, my American paranoia set it, especially when we travelled to New York City.  Yes, NYC is significantly larger than Boston and Barcelona.  But I felt fearful.  Fearful of letting the boys out of my sight for even a moment. Meanwhile, in this bustling city of Barcelona, I give (mainly) Aidan much more freedom than I would if we were to be in Boston proper.  He is allowed to go several blocks ahead of us, out of my line of sight, when going home from the bus.  In a city.  I asked him last night to go to the corner market and buy some potatoes (he refused to go but the point is, I was going to let him do it).  I let him run to the newspaper stand to buy pokemon cards when Liam and I are in the apartment.  And while I'm not ready to take these liberties with Liam yet, it's more about his lack of awareness of cars than his safety that's my concern, eventually I will.  I don't worry about people taking them.  This is a community where people are not afraid to get involved if they see a child in trouble.

Will being back in the US where everything just feels so secure to the point that it almost makes you nervous, wondering if something might actually happen.  Perhaps it's the media making us paranoid? Or could there really be such a huge problem with crime in the US?  I'd like to hope that it's the media. But regardless, the media still has it's impact, it doesn't matter how much you try to avoid it.  It's a domino effect.

I feel like this post was a bit all over the place.  The point of it was supposed to be that the safety and security here is very different than not just the US, but other parts of Europe as well.  There are definite measures taken in the US to give us the perception of being safe and I think for the most part, we continue on with our daily lives until tragedy strikes.  By living in Spain, we certainly cannot guarantee our safety, but I feel pretty good about it.


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