One of the attractions of living in Beijing is that it is generally safe, and violent crime is uncommon. Petty crime, however, does occur with some regularity. Expats are often the targets of bike theft, pickpockets, credit card fraud and various scams, most often in and around tourist sites, shopping malls, train stations and airports. If you’re out on the town at night, stick to places you know and avoid people attempting to lure you into nightclubs.
Until recently, we would have said Beijing is even safer for foreigners than locals, with the perception that assault on a laowai has the potential to cause embarrassing headlines. However, in 2012 China saw the first signs of some anti-foreigner resentment, and there have been some stories of muggings in the Sanlitun area. You’re still far safer at night than in any Western city (in part because most areas have people out and about at all times), but it’s something to be aware of.
If you find yourself the victim of a serious crime, call the police immediately on 110, ideally from the scene of the crime. Most police speak little or no English so try and get a Chinese speaker to assist you. Then contact your embassy for advice on whether you need a lawyer and how to proceed. Most expats find that reporting a petty crime is more trouble than it’s worth. Stolen bicycles and wallets are a common occurrence and the local police are far more likely to shrug it off than to investigate. Of course, your insurance provider will require a police report if you plan to claim damages.
Beijing’s Public Security Bureau has seven branches of police. The regular police wear dark blue uniforms and carry batons. Traffic police wear similar uniforms but can be identified by their white helmets. Hopefully you’ll never have to counter the Criminal Investigation Police, who deal with serious crimes involving, for example, narcotics and organized crime. Obviously, foreigners are not beyond the law in China, and the police can legally detain a foreigner for up to four days without contacting their embassy.