Even as snatchings have become more frequent in the city with 110 such incidents reported to the Chandigarh Police this year and women being the prime targets, snatchers are adopting smarter ways to outdo the cops.
They are now targeting women, especially senior citizens, during early morning hours when they are out on a walk. Earlier, the police used to set up nakas throughout the city during evening hours on a regular basis. The police claim that this had led to the arrest of several snatchers. However, snatchers have now found a way out. Aware that the police presence on the roads is minimal during the morning, they are now striking early during the day.
"Snatchers are targeting women between 6.30 am and 8 am when much of the police force is busy regulating traffic during school hours or in the evening at around 6 pm when residents are out for a walk," said the station house officer of the Sector 39 police station, Charanjit Singh. At least 50 women were victims of snatching this year.
Data available with the police on snatchings shows that elderly women are the main targets because of their vulnerability: they are slower in jotting down registration numbers of vehicles or chasing the snatchers. "Snatchers know that elderly women wear heavy jewellery, particularly gold," said Sandeep Singh, son of a snatching victim in Sector 37. Snatchers would earlier flick mobile phones from youngsters, but they soon realised that this was not a safe bet.
Part of gangs of habitual offenders
As snatchers have become more daring, their profile has also changed. "Until a few years ago, snatchers were mostly youngsters in search of easy money, who would ride motorcycles and cover the number plates with mud," deputy superintendent of police (police control room) Roshan Lal said. "Now, they are part of gangs of habitual offenders. They first do a recce of the area before striking. They are targeting morning walkers, especially elderly women or those going to temples or sitting outside their homes. Some of these gangs need money as they are into drugs. These criminals have pushed off amateur snatchers."
The daring attitude of snatchers can be gauged from the fact that some of them do not hesitate to enter houses and rob senior citizens of their valuables. They do not even cover their faces while carrying out the crime.
UT SSP Naunihal Singh said many snatchers caught by the Chandigarh Police were habitual offenders with not less than a dozen cases registered against them. "Criminal conviction is a must as fear of the law is the last thing on their minds," said Naunihal.
One reason for the spurt in snatching cases is that it is placed in the category of petty offence. As the punishment is not stringent, snatchers manage to get bail and soon resume their operations.
They even carry knives
The police said two-wheelers, including motorcycles and lightweight scooters, were the vehicles of choice for snatchers. Most of these vehicles are stolen ones with fake number plates. Snatchers are almost always armed. In several cases, it was found that they were carrying knives.
For most of the victims of snatching, recovery of the valuables is a distant dream. Three victims Hindustan times talked to said the police did little other than coming to the spot, showing them an album of criminals and registering a case. Almost all the victims were of the opinion that the police should at least make an effort to prepare sketches of the culprits and flash them across the city. They can also check the CCTV cameras put up by residents, said a snatching victim.
Varinder Kaur (65) of Sector 30 (Targeted on July 26)
I was cleaning the courtyard of my house early in the morning when I saw a man walking up to me with a visiting card. There was nothing suspicious about him. As I glanced at the card, he attacked me and took away my gold chain. After the incident, the police came and showed me an album of habitual offenders, asked questions and left. That was all. The police could have pursued the case by going through the footage of CCTV cameras in the neigbourhood, but they did nothing.
Suman Lata (30) of Sector 35 (Targeted on July 27)
I didn't even hear the sound of the engine when the bikers struck. I was going to the market with my kids in the evening when two persons came out of nowhere. Initially I thought they were out to misbehave. But before I could react, one of them snatched away my chain. The police came, enquired about the incident, lodged an FIR, and that was the end of it.
Harita (30) of Sector 30 (Targeted on July 24)
I was waiting for my friend to come out of her house after ringing her doorbell. Suddenly, a person attacked me from behind and disappeared with my gold chain. The police recorded my statement and registered a case, but did not do any follow-up after that. They catch snatchers on a regular basis, but the offences committed by them and the recoveries made from them never come to out knowledge.
Cases this year: 110
Number of women targeted: 50
Cases solved: 35