Bogota mayor Gustavo Petro caused quite a stir after telling citizens of Colombia’s capital on Wednesday to “leave their mobile phones at home.”
“You think it’s ok to take your phone out in the street and answer it?” asked Petro. “Because I believe we should make a change in our culture and put a stop to this.”
According to reports, approximately 4,000 cell phones are stolen everyday in Bogota.
Petro’s comments caused an outpour of indignation on news websites and social media. One commentator on Caracol Radio wrote, “we won’t take our money on the streets in case we are robbed, we won’t take the car, our watches, even our clothes, just in case we are robbed!”
Rather than lie down and take the bashing, Petro has been busy defending himself on Twitter: “Scotland Yard suggested the same thing to Londoners…There it is good, here it is bad.”
Scotland Yard sugirió lo mismo a los londinenses que el alcalde Petro a los bogotanos, allá esta bien, aquí mal twitter.com/sergio_serrano…
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) February 28, 2013
Though Petro’s comments were not unprecedented, they received a massive amount of rebukes from his constituency, something not unusual for the embattled mayor. In 2012, his unpopularity rating was north of 60%. In January, Congressman Miguel Gomez even tried to collect enough signatures to oust the mayor from office.
In London, a similar problem existed — nearly 10,000 phones were stolen in December. In response, Metropolitan Police launched a public awareness campaign.
“Having your personal possessions on show gives robbers a chance to make easy money,” a police officer told the BBC. “Just being conscious of where you are and being careful about when you display your valuables can help you avoid being targeted.”
In the United States, where around 113 cell phones are lost or stolen every minute according to micro-trax.com, San Francisco police have warned citizens to “be smart with your smartphone.”
In Colombia in 2011, approximately 490 people died in phone-theft related crimes. The government subsequently implemented new measures to restrict the resale and usage of stolen phones. It is now illegal to sell phones from unauthorized outlets and a blacklist of stolen phones has also been set up.
In October, national and international security agencies like INTERPOL, Scotland Yard, Ameripol, the FBI, along with telecommunications industry representatives, convened in Bogota to come up with a plan to tackle the worldwide scourge.
Petro’s advice was interpreted by some as almost analogous to blaming the victim, something the Bogota mayor knows quite well.
¡¡No me llamen, que voy a salir a la calle!! #PetroStyle
— Juan Pablo CALVÁS (@colombiascopio) February 27, 2013