Paris is a very safe city, and rates of violent crime, especially, will almost certainly be much lower than comparable cities you’re used to. Gun crimes are very rare as there is a strictly-enforced ban on personal handguns.
The most common threat to tourists and residents alike is that of having your pocket picked or your bag or mobile phone stolen. Incidents of muggings involving cell phones being grabbed directly and violently out of victims’ hands on the metro and on the street have been on the rise for about a year. Police and RATP officials advise keeping smartphones out of sight and safely guarded so as not to attract the attention of thieves.
As in any large city, keep a close eye on your possessions, never leave your bags unguarded and keep your bags firmly closed – no rummaging to get your metro tickets or fumbling in your pockets at the ATM!
When you are on the metro, you should be especially vigilant if two or more people crowd you. The metro pickpockets work in teams, however, they are usually recognizable to the metro driver. If a driver sees a team of pickpockets, an announcement will be made – something to the effect of: “Pay attention to your belongings. Pickpockets are in the station.”
Residential break-ins are somewhat common and happen most often in the months of August and December when many residents are on vacation. When you are away from your apartment, always double lock your door and make sure your windows are closed and locked. Alert your guardian/ne that you will be away and have someone periodically check on your apartment. Many of these robberies are opportunistic. Thieves will enter a building and knock on doors to see if anyone answers. If no one is home, the easier it is to enter the home, the more likely it is to be robbed.
Crowds of rowdy young people can be an annoyance on late-night buses and metros, but the special RATP police are out in force at those times as well. If you’re nervous, it’s best to sit in a fairly full metro car with a mixed population of women and men.
Women will invariably attract attention in Paris. It’s usually relegated to comments but persistent men may follow you. Ignore them and keep walking. If you feel in danger, immediately enter the nearest shop or restaurant and ask for assistance or to have a taxi called for you. Even in broad daylight in a crowded area you may feel annoyed by such behavior. Observe the French women – their set, stern expressions in such encounters are good examples to follow. North Americans, especially, tend to smile to politely indicate non-interest but this will be taken exactly the opposite way by French men.
Police are a constant presence in Paris and first-time visitors are often surprised by how well they are armed. This was a reaction to the 90s-era attacks on the Parisian metro – and the increases in staff and weapons have never been rescinded. Police are often stern-faced but don’t hesitate to ask them for help, or even directions, as they are often polite and very helpful.
Plan Vigipirate is France’s security alert system. There are two levels of alert, “vigilance” and the higher “attack alert”. When there is an “attack alert”, a stronger military presence is observed in Paris streets, metros, commercial centers, shopping areas, and popular tourist areas. After the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 2015, the level of risk was elevated to “attack alert” and has remained there until this update (April 2015). In addition to a stronger general presence, the military has also been assigned to stand guard at schools. It can be unnerving to pass heavily armed soldiers as you drop off your children to school and can initiate a complicated discussion with your children. Stress the fact that the soldiers are there to protect the school; children who have been here since the implementation of this plan have quite easily adapted to their presence.
The Prefecture of police maintains a page dedicated to Le Plan Vigipirate. While the site is only in French, it is clearly stated at which level the alert is.