This past March, Pope Francis issued a surprise proclamation of a special Jubilee year of mercy to begin in December 2015, which may be dampened—planners fear—by a steady rise in predatory crimes on the streets of the Eternal City.
It turns out, in fact, that Rome is not only the capital of the Italian Republic; it is also the capital of Italian theft and pickpocketing, according to a recent report issued by the Center for Studies on Social Investment (Censis), a socio-economic research institute founded in 1964.
The Jubilee year will feature special celebrations and pilgrimages, and calls for conversion and repentance, as well as offering special opportunities to experience God’s grace through the sacraments, especially confession.
The Pope has expressed his conviction that the whole Church “will find in this jubilee the joy to rediscover and render fruitful the mercy of God,” for which he has invited Christians to make pilgrimages to Rome and to seek God’s forgiveness in a special way.
It is hard to predict exactly how many pilgrims will make the trip to Rome, but as a point of reference, during the Jubilee year 2000, 25 million pilgrims are estimated to have visited the city.
Concerned citizens would like to see the city cleaned up by next December, not only of graffiti and street rubbish, but also of crime.
Over the last three years for which reliable statistics are available (2010-2013), pickpocketing and purse-snatching have increased by 75% in Rome, nearly doubling the national average. There has also been a marked increase in shoplifting (29.5%), as well as theft from parked cars (20.6%).
Some of the crime increase may stem from an equally large growth in drug dealing in the city, which has registered a rise of 43.4% during the same period.
Even though provisional data for the first nine months of 2014 indicate a slight reduction in Rome’s overall crime rate, both pickpocketing and shoplifting have continued to increase, by 18.2% and 14%, respectively.
Rome’s rise in crime has been accompanied by an increase in fear and a sense of insecurity among citizens, with more than half of Romans (55.4%) asserting that the capital city is less safe today than it was a few years ago. Among women, the perception of growing insecurity is higher still (60.5%), the report states.
Violent crimes in Rome, while lower than in many major cities, have also been on the rise, with reported crimes of assault growing by 31.2% in the same three-year period.
Confidence levels in the effectiveness of local police to stop crime are at rock bottom, as only 8% of the Romans think the cops are efficient at halting delinquency.
Reactions to the Censis report have been swift in coming, mostly targeting Ignazio Marino, Rome’s mayor, and Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano.
“The Censis dossier depicts an alarming situation,” said Stefano Pedica of the Democratic Party. “Rome does not deserve to be turned into a Wild West. Seven months before the Jubilee, Marino should immediately give a sign of breaking with the past by making the issue of security the first priority on his agenda.”
Davide Bordoni, the head of the Forza Italia party in Rome, said people should begin asking Minister of the Interior Alfano, “How will you defend the capital from terrorism if you can’t control pickpockets?”
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.