Two years of sustained efforts by the Mumbai police to keep the streets safe for pedestrians seems to have yielded results with instances of chain snatching cases in 2016 recording the lowest in the past five years.
With a total of 445 cases reported across 93 police stations last year, the figure was less than half of what had been reported in 2014 (909), or a little more than one fifth of the cases registered in 2013 (2,090).
Sources in the Mumbai police told HT that the success in the crackdown on chain snatching syndicates (or lone operatives) was achieved through a two-pronged strategy that involved a change in the SoP (Standard Operating Procedure) and application of tougher laws. “The campaign against chain snatching was persuaded with the same vigour as the anti-drink driving campaign by the traffic police or the crime branch’s drive against the underworld some years back,” sources added.
Joint commissioner of police, law and order, Deven Bharti said that chain snatching assumed centre stage of policing concerns in the last two years. “Despite our best efforts, instances of chain snatching had refused to come down, as is seen in the figures of years preceding 2015. A chain or a mangalsutra is not just a property alone. A lot of sentimental value is attached to it,” Bharti said while advancing reasons for the all-out crackdown. “It also makes a feeling of insecurity in the streets.”
To address the problem, a calibrated strategy was put in place. “To begin with, police stations were asked to dig out information about chain snatchers, active and dormant, in their respective areas and monitor their movement on a daily basis,” a deputy commissioner of police (DCP) from the western suburbs said. Secondly, the city was mapped to identify areas affected by the problem and surveillance was intensified accordingly. Moreover, special teams were constituted in police stations to solve undetected chain snatching cases with the help of private CCTV footages (obtained from residential complexes or business establishments). “However, the most important field strategy was conducting raids on hideouts across the city’s limits in Thane and Navi Mumbai,” sources said.
After blocking the escape routes for chain snatchers in the streets, the police started applying stringent laws that denied them easy legal immunity. “In cases where they were found operating as a syndicate, we started slapping the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA). In other instances, we started booking them under IPC Section 392 (robbery) instead of Section 379 (theft). While the latter is a minor offence (maximum 3 years of imprisonment upon conviction), the former is a serious offence in which the jail term can be extended to 14 years upon conviction,” Bharti said adding, “Obtaining bail under MCOCA and IPC Section 392 is also tough.”
Mumbai police spokesperson Ashok Dudhe claimed that the strategy showed results in the first year (2015) when the figure of chain snatchings fell to 909 from the previous year’s figure of 1409 cases. For instance, Dudhe said, Zone IV (comprising areas like Matunga, Kalachowkie, Sion, Wadala, Bhoiwada et al) which traditionally recorded higher instances of chain snatching, had just about 5-6 cases registered for several months against the traditional monthly figure of around 50-60 cases. “The tempo was maintained in 2016. With prompt availability of private CCTV footages and increased presence of policemen on the street, the figure came down to an all-time low this year,” he added.
Meanwhile, a former assistance commissioner of police (ACP), who had played a key role in the crackdown against the underworld a decade ago, said that the application of MCOCA has spread fear in the minds of chain snatchers. “Several of them are languishing behind the bar without bail,” he said. However, he expressed doubts over the drastic fall in the number of cases. “As far as I know, in 10-12 per cent cases police stations burked registration of offences in order to keep the figures down,” the officer claimed while requesting anonymity.