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In my world, trains are the most prevalent form of transportation. Immense subway systems are used to transport people, livestock, and other goods throughout the world. Street level, trams, bicycles, and moving sidewalks are the most common methods of getting around. Besides law enforcement, taxis, and transportation for very important people (politicians and such), cars are not common at all and are heavily regulated. Most people do not know how to drive and those that do need to take extensive courses in order to be licensed. There are illegally produced cars, but they are more common in rural areas. Getting caught with one can land you in jail for a few months/years.

Here's the issue: how could criminals move around in such a world? For example, say members of an organized crime group commit a bank robbery, how would they escape with a large sum of cash? If they try to ride a train or tram, they would be very obvious to any law enforcement agent who happens to see them. If a gun fight erupts between two opposing factions, how could they make a quick getaway?

The technology level in this world is futuristic. Nuclear, solar, wind, and hydropower are the prevailing forms of energy. Railguns are common. Genetic alterations are not common but do exist. Air transport does not (more an aesthetic choice).

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    $\begingroup$ What do your cars roll on? Do they have a special lane (even though they’re very uncommon)? Or are they on mixed lanes with others means of transportation? making an escape by bicycle is possibly be the best if they can use small roads not adapted to cars $\endgroup$
    – Nephanth
    Jul 17 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ Isn't slipping onto public transport broadly the same for you as disappearing into any other crowd? Either way if there are taxis and criminals, what stops your criminals from hi-jacking or faking taxis? $\endgroup$ Jul 18 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ if you are robbing a bank or committing armed assaults', your not going to care if your cars are legal. small crime is not a deterrent if you are already committing much bigger crimes. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 18 at 5:10
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    $\begingroup$ How do you think robbers in cities like Vienna get away? There are plenty of cases where the robber simply escaped on foot and presumably took public transport. E.g. this one in 2020: meinbezirk.at/margareten/c-lokales/… Searching for Vienna, robberies and subway (in German) turns up lots of results. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Jul 18 at 16:43
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding ' illegally produced cars': making a modern car is very complex (at least for combustion engine). Cars produced in a clandestine garage will not be competitive. And getting an "extra" car from a heavily regulated factory might be difficult. $\endgroup$
    – Pablo H
    Jul 18 at 23:26

16 Answers 16

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The key in such circumstances is disguise rather than some different form of transportation. Convince the ID system that you are someone else (or better yet, convince it that you are actually somewhere else) and just go about quietly rather than draw attention.

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    $\begingroup$ Consider for additional inspiration that in fact in 2012's Skyfall, not only does the villain escape via public transport (the London underground), he does so while dressed as a police officer! $\endgroup$
    – ThePadawan
    Jul 18 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ ID system? Some public transportation systems don't even have turnstiles! Instead they have random checks that you are holding a valid ticket. Even if you get checked, unless you are unlucky, the ticket checkers haven't heard there was a bank robbery yet. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    Jul 18 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751 Even with free, open transportation with no ticket, there will probably be CCTV with facial recognition and analytics capabilities. There's already systems like these in development or in use, the main limitations are largely ethical at that point. You probably don't want to use the same identity/disguise as the guy who got clocked robbing the bank. I think the spirit of the answer is dead on, you can't outrun the cops, but you can outsmart them. $\endgroup$ Jul 19 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ On a further note, location location location. Choose a bank / jeweler close to the airport, wear a disguise to the robbery, stash stuff in suitcase and head for the public transport. If you start running, everybody will assume that you're about to miss your flight $\endgroup$ Jul 19 at 9:56
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine I didn't say they're going to flee via plane $\endgroup$ Jul 19 at 14:09
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  • Impersonate/subvert legal transportation
    Presumably there are fire engines, ambulances, garbage trucks, delivery vans, moving companies, and even a few licensed cabs. Get one, alter the license plates or transponder or whatever, and prepare for a shell game to get lost. The getaway planning would have to be extensive, but the expected haul of the heist might be worth it. For a high-profile case, take the vehicle to the entrance of a big subway station and burn it there, perhaps repeating several cycles to shake of CCTV trails.
  • Parkour
    Possibly connected with the one above, serious criminals train how to cross and exploit urban obstacles. Obviously the police train for pursuit on foot. Who munched more donuts lately?
  • On a small scale, skater gangs
    Small-time muggers or pickpockets use something like a skateboard. It might be illegal to use it on a sidewalk, but it might also be common enough as a misdemeanor by rebellious teenagers that mere possession of a skateboard is not effectively prosecuted.
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/law enforcement, taxis, and transportation for very important people/

Use one of these.

If you don't want your criminals to melt into the crowd or drop into the sewers, have someone come pick them up. You already said who it will be. One gang is in cahoots with the law. Another gang has a sponsor who is a princess. You are not allowed in her car if you have recently been in the sewer.

Lone wolf has a cousin who is a cabbie and who chews him out each time she has to come get him, but she always comes and gets him. Until she gets hurt and his aunt comes instead, which all involved hope does not happen ever again.

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You don't mention ubiquitous surveillance cameras, which would presumably be able to track suspects (whether in a car or not) during their getaway, until they enter a non-public space.

It's not clear what you see as the big difference between cars and the other forms of transport you do allow. Raw speed doesn't seem that important -- in fact, you allow bicycles, which can be as fast as cars on today's congested city streets.

Your scenario seems to be that criminals aren't being chased or tracked immediately from the crime scene, but could be spotted by someone who thinks they look suspicious.

For example, say members of an organized crime group commit a bank robbery, how would they escape with a large sum of cash? If they try to ride a train or tram, they would be very obvious to any law enforcement agent who happens to see them.

Consider thinking further about what would make suspects "obvious". Their stolen cash could be in backpacks or duffel bags that are not inherently suspicious. Are you picturing that all public transit would "scan" everyone's bags like we do at airports today?

To understand what criminal activity looks like without cars, you can look at:

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  • $\begingroup$ Even cameras can be fooled to some extent. If you blend in the disguise element, you can change your clothes quickly, then blend in with a group of people heading to a pub with jerseys on. Better yet, have your group of robbers pick different groups to blend in with and split up. Trying to track multiple mobs/groups of people and keeping track of 1 individual in each group is difficult, to put it mildly. The police might figure it out, given time, but then the robbers could have met back up and left town/disappeared by then. $\endgroup$ Jul 19 at 22:45
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In such a society, the robbery would occur via "futuristic" means, not by walking into a branch and getting cash. In fact, cash might not even be used.

You are ignoring the most common form of bank robbery today - electronic cyber crime. The biggest worry that bank security people have today is the worry that the international interbank transfer network has been hacked. (No you won't find any discussion of that in the media because it is such a scary proposition. The real worry is that it has already happened.) There have been a couple of multi-million dollar false transfers on that network because of one node being not as secure as the rest of the network.

There have been a lot of ransomware attacks recently. The gangs have gotten millions that way. Have you heard about any banks being attacked? No. Because the banks keep that very secret, not that the attacks haven't happened.

A few years back, there was a coordinated attack on a major bank ATM network. All around the world, people walked up to ATM's and entered a specific code at the same time which allowed them to start pulling money out fast. It took the bank 20 minutes to identify that it was happening and shut it down. But in that time, the gang got millions.

In short, only small time criminals try to rob cash out of a bank today and in the society you design. That is a problem for the local police and the explosive dye packet in the cash will help identify the criminals. The real criminals use the networks that replace cash in your society, never walk into a bank, never have to make a get away, and may be in another country where the police of your society can't touch them. (The banks may hire a group of ex special forces to deal with them.)

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  • $\begingroup$ This is a (very) valid observation about bank robbery - but note that OP discussed escaping a crime scene in general (e.g. after a gunfight, murder, arson etc. etc.). If this answer suggests that any crime can be done cybernetically / remotely (maybe you send a disposable drone to do the nasty parts of the job?) consider addressing other criminal activities demanding a getaway in RL. $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Jul 18 at 16:45
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Never underestimate the value of a good distraction

One of the more clever aspects of the first Mission Impossible movie was the theft of data from the CIA in Langley, VA. Yes, most of the screen time was given to Tom Cruise hanging from a wire while ripping off the identical scene from the 1964 film Topkapi1 (he should be ashamed of himself for doing that... or at least the writers should have been...). But my point is, the theft would not have been successful had it not been for a great distraction: they set the building up to look like it was on fire, then walked out dressed as firemen.

Get everyone looking over there and they won't be looking for you over here. It doesn't matter what your getaway method is. You could walk away with suitcases stuffed with money, so long as no one is looking in your direction.


1The creator of the original Mission Impossible series, Bruce Geller, has been cited as saying that Topkapi was some of the inspiration for the series. If true, then possibly, maybe, the entire scene could have been construed as "honoring" that association. It was still a rip-off and proof that Hollywood is very rarely imaginative, relying on books to do all the imaginative thinking for them. Which is why we're all here, am I right?

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I'd say it depends on what your gang of criminals is stealing.

In a futuristic world, I'm not sure if cash is going to be that important. In fact, cash may be much more easily traceable than other modes of finance because people don't use it that much.Bank robberies won't make sense, at least not the way they do today.

So, let's assume they are stealing something else, something that needs to be physically moved from one place to another, but is still valuable. My best bet would be that they'll conduct a heist, involving deception. So rather than an outright bank robbery involving guns and hostages, they'll be more likely to assume alternate identities, walk into this place, impersonate someone important and carry the valuable item away with them.

The mode of public transport won't matter, because the surveillance systems will register them as other people, with identities that can be discarded easily.

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This is already fairly common in the real world for shoplifters.
When someone flees a crime in public transit, there's no license plate to track.
Buses come and go quickly and often look the same.
It's much easier for authorities to pull over a car.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the Worldbuilding SE! I'd just like to point out that your answer doesn't really answer the question and would probably be better suited as a comment. Consider tying your examples from the real world more firmly and specifically into the OP's specific situation; that would really improve this answer! $\endgroup$ Jul 17 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ The bus driver will likely comply with the police's orders, unless the criminal inside is threatening him or the other passengers. On the other hand, a criminal as a car driver has much greater maneuverability, and will respond with aggressive (or evasive) driving to pull over attempts. The robbers can also remove the plates (or install fake ones), so tracking is limited. $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Jul 19 at 15:06
  • $\begingroup$ @Trang Oul If the criminal is a celebrity, he can hold himself hostage. No need for "much greater maneuverability"! Can't figure out how to shift your car into 2nd gear? Don't worry. If everything fails, you can still fumble around putting on a glove and "if it doesn't fit, you have to acquit". Then you write a book about your crime. -- Hey, it worked for OJ Simpson! -- Okay, yes, that was murder, not robbery. Still... --- In any case, in your scenario, relieve the bus driver of driving the bus, install an (illegal) firmware update on the bus, and: "much greater maneuverability". $\endgroup$
    – Klaws
    Aug 6 at 18:45
  • $\begingroup$ Kind of like how I'm holding myself hostage on a Friday by reading random stuff on the innertubes instead of going out and doing something. $\endgroup$ Aug 7 at 0:15
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Rubbish in your city is constantly collected. When a sensor signals that the weight of a container passed a threshold the container is lowered automatically in a dedicated underground network and carried away by robots. Obviously an AI checks that there is nothing strange in the container, but your characters might have found a way to fool the AI, so they can jump in few containers and travel through a network where nobody expects them to be.

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Big infrastructure means big maintenance: Your city must be riddled with access tunnels, maintenance shafts, delivery entrances. There will be dumb robots everywhere, whizzing around in the dark.

Your criminal can use an illicit key to enter the system. Maybe only the booty needs to be hidden or dispatched somewhere. The criminal can get in a crate and dispatch himself. A suborned robot can help.

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Misdirection

The robbers flee into a crowded area and hand off the loot to others who are not likely to be stopped. Male robbers handing off to female couriers. The robbers ditch the masks, weapons and coats and step back into the crowd.

If a robber is stopped, they have no evidence on them and are likely to be let pass.

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Use the goods distribution system, not the people transport system

Not just people need transport, goods (consumables, in the most general sense) also need to be distributed. Or collected, after being used up.

Food might be distributed through a pneumatic pipe mail system. Air might get distributed through ventilation shafts and air ducts. Water comes through water pipes, but these are usually pressurized and not that easy to enter (unlike you have viaducts, like the Romans). "Used food/water" dis collected via sewage systems, often easily accessible and sometimes large enough for persons, traversing them on foot (or crawling, possibly in a scuba suit) or by boat.

Huge objects (like prefab building parts) might be distributed through sky cranes (blimps, zeppelins). These devices have the issue that they require ballast (like water) when not carrying stuff, or some way to compress their buoyant gas so it generates less lift. Maybe a building near the bank gets renovated, old dwelling units (flats) are removed are carried off for recycling, while new ones arrive. Maybe that's the way how people move in that future, you have your dwelling unit oved to another town. Maybe the bank director is currently in the process of moving, and his dwelling unit is an unsuspicious getaway "vehicle"; requiring the crew not only to break into the bank's (highly secured) vault, but also into the bank director's (highly secured) home. Okay, loading a ton of precious metals into this home unit might raise some eyebrows from the transport operators; after all, they need to drop more ballast to lift it.

I am aware that you decided against air transport for aesthetic reasons, but using sky crane for the purpose of "construction work" might be okay, since it happens more rarely and requires no traditional cranes and construction machines travelling on roads.

The robbers might "transport" their loot separately, fooling the law enforcement who are looking for someone moving a ton of precious metals. Easy: drop the gold into the trash, where it goes into the recycling system. The recycling system has, of course, been hacked (or it has a stupid bug where it doesn't recognize precious metals as such) and produces new goods from that precious material. Which are then bought, or stolen again, by the robbers. In our world, that might be a car made out of gold, which obviously doesn't work your world. Maybe "iron" park benches? Stealing park benches from a public park is, quite possibly, less likely to be noticed, especially if the park so large that CCTV is not present. Or it's some product which is installed in a very private space: "iron" toilet bowls.

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Method 1: The crime is not discovered until much later.

The best way to do this is to not have the crime detected in time for the criminals to be present.

E.g you rob a bank, but at the time of the discovery, they don't know if the robbery was 2 days ago or two months ago.

Method 2: Crooks aren't physically present.

They extort money from the victim, and have it transferred to an offshore account. There it's split 47 ways, and sent to 47 other banks. There it is split again and goes off to a third tier, where some are combined, then forwarded again.

Method 3: The goods are cached near the crime.

E.g. you take a megabuck from a bank. It becomes part of a building near the bank that is under construction.

Method 4. Send it by bus.

You put it in a magnetic box, and clap it on the bottom side of a bus.

Method 5. You use a politician.

Or someone who has a car as part of your team, either knowingly or unknowingly.

Method 6. Use a fast and/or stealthly drone.

Drone is preprogrammed with a destination using onboard GPS.

Method 7: Your theft enters the infrastructure.

Your system has some form of infra-structure goods movement. Someone has to deliver all those Amazon boxes. Wholesale supplies move around somehow. Trash gets collected. This is going to be true until you have widespread and very good replicatator technology.

Method 8: Send it through the sewers.

Goes into a water proof box and dropped into the storm sewer. Fish it out when it reaches the lake, or you have a minion who fishes it out at another point in the system.

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There are many way to get away with it. what trully matter regardless is only the few minute of the heist as once the police lost your track you will have much more time to moove around.

  1. bike: as you said bike are a common thing in your word and it would make sens for your crew to use them to navigate trough the city, especially as you can take most pathway that would normaly be accessible only by pedestrian with ease.

2.ebike: i put them in a different point as bike as even modern day ebike or more and more akin to motorcicle in term of speed. So it's up to you if they are readily acessible in your world, but if they are, not only do they leave you the same liberty as the bike in narrow/difficult to squeeze trough space, they let you go at insane speed, comparable with ease with small motorbike, going at 50/70 km/h depending on the model and that's without even tweeting the motor to go faster. but without even going as far as high end ebike, even just a small electrique assistance that cant help you past 20km/h would still be a very nice boost in hilly city.

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  • $\begingroup$ The ebike is an interesting point...but, if you're at it. why not a real motorbike? Well, in the distant future, a はやぶさ (Hayabusa) might be expensive to source, a collector's item (and possibly quite illegal to drive, but...bank robberies are also illegal, so why bother?), and possibly easy to trace down (there was famous case of a bank robber whose getaway vehicle was a bike; he got tracked down because the bike was a (rather rare) Steelman). So don't buy the petrol-operated bike, steal it. Like a GTA Online heist. Fun fact: some German tuner modifies Hayabusa. 400km/h means a good getaway?! $\endgroup$
    – Klaws
    Aug 6 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ today ebike are pretty much as, if not more fast than a "real" motorbike at least in urban environment. if your city is build as walkable and not driveable you won't have the use for more powerfull vehicle. car are only interesting if the infrastructure is made for car $\endgroup$
    – shas
    Aug 10 at 11:52
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Since you don't mention anything particularly dystopian, I shall not go there, not the places that leads.

As to "routine" considerations for what you envision, if you've ever played GTA or seen YouTube clips of it, the word "jacking" is probably in your vocabulary. All those vehicles mentioned can be jacked, if one wants to go past the "just use them creatively" approach. Jack a bus and it goes where you want, when you want. Barring obstruction by law enforcement. Hence the likelihood of having to switch along the way. Even trains and subways can be taken, especially with help on the inside clearing routes for you. But parked subway trains can be left and another entered, normally, and abnormally, through simple leaving through rear doors directly to another or through windows that are side-by-side. Even moving, especially if moving the same direction and near the same speeds.

A train might be left for its roof, then to exit it via pre-positioned or confederate provided ways up to overpassing roadways/people movers/etc.

As mentioned by Thorne, loot can be handed off to confederates. One of our stores got robbed by several young men. They handed the money off to a car of confederates and the police had nothing when they stopped them. Fools robbed us on a Sunday, not a Saturday. "Fools" because the ninth individual was an employee of ours who knew there was 10 times the money on a Saturday night. Very clever of them otherwise. Not completely otherwise as they did exactly the same thing again the next week and got caught during the handoff. So things might not work with the smoothness of MI, but...

As to actual loot, there could always be inside men at the bank or what-have-you. I remember a John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John movie in which he got nothing, she, the teller, got thousands, and was wrong that he'd figure that out. But with an insider, perhaps one could score quite a few bucks, more than the usual a simple robber gets.

It could even be a beard for an electronic robbery. At some point, before too much mayhem or harm to bystanders occurs for the po-po to drop the chase, the fact that they actually took nothing, or that they dropped it ("lost" it)(the physical loot), might lead to the cops downgrading the chase. If they had some cleverness planned for not long afterward, the confusion as cops are called off and the cleverness might get them away.

They could also be throwaways. A mastermind plans for them to be caught and they acquiesce. It would have to be for a LOT of money, not really what robbers usually get because they'd be going to jail, but even crooks have relatives, children, parents, folks who get expensive to cure cancers or need some other operation. National Health fixed the burns medically, but the hideous appearance costs cash to fix. Scum trying to score to open a business or buy their first 10 kilos of cocaine. That kind of thing. The loot is passed to confederates, then the chase continues for some length of time, the coppers gradually win, and a DB Cooper-like search commences for the lost loot. But it ain't lost. Those throwaways get their share so others will do it again for the mastermind, or at least, their nominees get their shares that is.

To enter a bit of shadow, as opposed to going dark, like I do below, anyone could turn out to be in on it. A politician just happens to drive by at the right time and his car is jacked. Po-po's in on it, some of them, especially folks who can fuzz (pun intended) the electronic stuff. The perps flee through a gang area and the gang rises up to say "Oh no po-po, you ain't passing through our territory." They only need to stick to it long enough to let the robbers get their break from immediate pursuit, then bow to overwhelming police presence. Of course, a plot direction change could occur as they take money for the work before the robbery but disappear the robbers as they come through, maybe even have similar people to continue the run from the cops, and they take the loot. They might have time to disappear it too if the runners give the cops a good run and they have the resources.

Back to the nicer thoughts, they could create mayhem several places along the way, mayhem that breaches usually inviolate facilities. That could be the point. They'll get caught, or won't, but the real robbery might commence in one of the mayhem sites. Or several of them. Perhaps some electronic insertion, done by someone who now has access with the blown out hole in the wall and evacuated building. Or an insider there who is waiting to use the "distraction" to overcome physical limits preventing his taking over a system. One perhaps that has millions available for looting, or perhaps a longer game, using the insertion to crack something much larger.

Smash the window of a storefront dentist office and you might steal 2-3-4,000 records before the cops get there, and mine them slowly by hand for useful data to sell or use. Break in electronically and you steal 10,000 records in a minute or two, then mine them swiftly for information. Credit card info for instance, that won't be more and more useless as people get new cards, since you use in in hours, not weeks. (Oh, all the posing aside, everyone, EVERYONE, holds credit card info even though they're not allowed to, just because customers want that in many cases, and because of bogus disputes and other reasons. I know VISA will be just shocked, shocked that there's record holding going on. Ah, Capablanca, the gift that keeps on giving.)

Hate to go DARK, as you don't seem to be aimed there so won't likely have use for it, but when you take away the easy-to-hope-on getaway methods, there are others. The loot is gathered. The bad guys (and they are BAD) are ready to get away from there. The cops are ringed about. Hostage time. Well, no. One goes out. Slides a phone along the ground. A cop views the video on it. It's a truck's trailer, somewhere, maybe this city, maybe a thousand miles away. Coupla guys in it with submachine guns, clearly another who is filming, and there's a family on its knees, momma, 2-3 kids, that kind of thing. Maybe lying facedown, naked to add shock and wretchedness, and a text overlay that says let the boyos go and don't follow, don't track. Or these people all die. Then it fades off and one of the submachine gun boys puts his gun down and lights up a homemade flamethrower.

Up to the cops.

Frankly, I'm surprised no one's done it yet in our time. Talk about a Hobson's choice.

Keeping it light, PLANNING is really the key. And not crackhead planning, not "I need $4,000 by Thursday" planning, but real, master thief planning. In the '30's it was thought the mob and others had a stable of such who'd make plans for any given heist, bank, jeweler's, home invasion, payrolls, whatever. They were not participants, just made plans. And that there were freelancers who did the same and found men (and women) to do the work, taking a split, or a buy-out and walking away, leaving the thieves to it. I wrote some stories and got mostly done on a novel on that idea, set near the Mexican border (Texas), but it seems I'm not a... compelling... writer. (Well, to be honest, not a good one, I guess.) It morphed into the movie standard of con gangs running deep games, even nice guy ones like in Leverage but I bet people nowadays would buy back into the masterminds writing up robberies and other heists though. Not necessarily the organized crime aspect, but perhaps high-ranking cops and politicians, being run perhaps by rich men.

So maybe think of what there is in your world to give that kind of a twist to their getaway.

There's always the not escaping into a crowd, but when the crowd is tasked by the cops, it goes the "No, I am Spartacus" route. But that requires a slightly shadowed nuance to things as well. There'd have to be a lot of class hate and anger present in what sounds like an otherwise happy world.

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  • $\begingroup$ "go DARK" rang a bell for me. Use an EMP device (nowadays, there are non-nuclear-bomb varieties available, and much more so in the future, though possibly outlawed), or hack the power system, to shut down the whole city/sector. The criminals flee on foot or by bicycle (obviously, knowing that this robber would happen, having trained for this for months!). The copy pursue them them on foot or by bicycle (obviously, not knowing about the heist and not having trained for months). $\endgroup$
    – Klaws
    Jul 30 at 18:01
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The key in most criminal escapes is to quickly put distance between oneself and the crime and then disappear: blend into a crowd, duck into a building, hop onto a crowded subway... The first place police will go is the crime scene, and then it will take a few minutes for them to organize a pursuit; you want to be blocks away and calmly unobtrusive before that pursuit gets underway.

Bicycles are a good choice; electric scooters might be better. They are quiet and fast, and can get you to a pre-planned rally point where you can change clothes, pack up your stolen goods, and saunter away in different directions. If you want something more futuristic, try disposable jet-packs or powered flying suits. Going up, around, or over buildings will make you difficult to follow and avoid most surveillance (which would mainly be at street level). You'd probably want a power burst to a glide, so you avoid leaving a heat trail all the way to your rally point.

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