Zurich calls halt to "ram-raid rocks"

The authorities say the rocks must go swissinfo.ch

Jewellers on Zurich’s most exclusive shopping street thought they’d found the perfect solution to the growing problem of ram raids.

This content was published on October 17, 2003 - 10:51

Vexed by recent attacks in the town centre, the Bahnhofstrasse jewellers decided to place giant boulders in front of their shop windows.

The rocks were seen as an effective and cheap way of stopping the ram raiders – thieves who use stolen cars to smash their way into shops.

But having originally given its approval to the idea, Zurich’s civil engineering department received a number of complaints from pedestrians, as well as criticism from the police and fire brigade who said the rocks could restrict their access routes.

Now the jewellers have been told that the boulders will have to go.

“I think the rocks are a very good solution, and one that doesn’t cost crazy amounts of money,” Eugen Jost of the Christ jewellery store told swissinfo.

“I’m very surprised that there is suddenly a problem with them. I think they are beautiful, natural, Swiss mountain rocks – so why shouldn’t we be allowed to use them?”

Temporary measure

The civil engineering department agrees that the rocks are inexpensive and do the job they were intended for, but insists that they were only ever meant as a temporary measure.

“Although the rocks are effective, there are some problems,” insists department spokesman Pio Marzolini. “They get in the way of rescue workers and of street cleaners.

"There are also lots of shoppers here on Saturdays who want to move freely without obstacles lying in their way, so this can’t be a long-term solution.”

Ironically, the popularity of the stones with the city’s shopkeepers is also proving a problem.

“As soon as we allowed the first lot of rocks to be installed, we had other shops in the neighbourhood calling up as if we were a pizza delivery service, and asking if they could have rocks too,” recalls Marzolini.

“We had to say no, because we didn’t want the stones spreading all across the city. It was just meant to be a short-term answer focusing on the shops most at risk.”

From jewels to clothes

Rather than putting an end to the ram-raiding problem, however, the rocks seem merely to have diverted the robbers’ attention elsewhere.

Of the six ram raids attempted in Zurich’s city centre this year, four took place after the introduction of the rocks in August.

Unable to break into the jewellery stores on Bahnhofstrasse, the ram raiders simply went for other locations or other types of valuables.

Shop owner Hans Stäuli was one of those affected, when his designer clothes store was targeted by raiders last week.

“They smashed their way through the door using a Mercedes,” shrugs Stäuli, as workmen continue with the repairs. “They went straight for the Prada sports wear and left everything else – they knew exactly what they were after.

“It may have been the jewellers who were the main targets originally, but the thieves will simply pick other targets, whether it’s designer label clothes or whatever they decide to choose next.”

Seeking alternatives

The good news for the stores already protected by boulders is that they will be able to keep them until at least the start of next year, by which point the civil engineering department hopes to have found a less controversial way of keeping the ram raiders out.

But since the authorities intend to keep the pavements clear of obstacles, any new proposal is sure to be more expensive than the placing of a few rocks.

“The new measures will concentrate on ways to strengthen the shops’ facades or the windows themselves,” says Marzolini, “perhaps by using railings or by recommending that the jewellers don’t have their windows running all the way down to the ground.

“We believe that the jewellers will have to meet the costs themselves. We’ve already had some jewellers insisting that it’s the state’s job to keep their businesses safe, but in our view it’s their responsibility to protect their own valuables.”

swissinfo, Mark Ledsom in Zurich

Ram raid rocks

This year has already seen six ram raids on shops in the centre of Zurich.
That compares to just three raids in the previous three years combined.
The city police say that around SFr1.5 million of goods were stolen in this year's raids.

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