Morning walkers or late-night shift workers? Outside marriage halls or around schools? Young women or senior citizens? The Mumbai police are studying how chain snatchers work, who they target, when they strike and how they get away, to keep the number of chain-snatching incidents — once rampant —low.
A few years after the police began their crackdown, chain-snatching cases started dropping significantly — from 2,078 cases in 2013 to 443 in 2016 (see box). Until April 23 this year, 49 cases were reported; 20 have been solved.
So, what worked?
The Mumbai police said they studied patterns and adapted accordingly. “Earlier, morning walkers or women coming home early in the morning after a night shift were targeted. The chain-snatchers realised that we increased police presence at dawn. so they changed the time at which they struck,” said a senior police officer.
The department then studied where, when and how the criminals struck. Based on the patterns they found, they focussed their personnel— more officers were put on patrol duty and every police station had to increase their presence on the streets.
For the past month, criminals have been striking at night, the police found, and so they depolyed anti-chain squads at night to catch them.
“The squads were posted at vulnerable locations — areas with little traffic, which are close to highways. More police presence automatically stops the chain-snatchers,” the officer told HT.
For instance, in mid-April, chain-snatching incidents were reported in the Navghar, Sion and NM Joshi police stations’ jurisdictions, all of them around 9.30pm. “The incidents were taking place in a sequence, so we suspected the same bikers were involved. We have night squads in these areas now” the officer said.
At least four police personnel are deployed at vulnerable points to stop the bikers. The police’s study also revealed the bikers used nearby highways to escape. Major checkpoints were then set up at the city’s exit points to stop them. The Mumbai police’s move in 2012 to charge chain-snatchers for ‘robbery’, and not ‘theft’, under the Indian Penal Code, has also acted as a deterrent as the punishment is harsher, sources said.
Cops list risky spots: Parks, marriage halls and schools
From 2,078 cases in 2013 to 443 cases last year — steps the Mumbai police are taking to curb instances of chain-snatching seem to have worked.
“All police stations were given targets to curb the crime,” said Deven Bharti, joint commissioner (law and order), who is in charge of all police stations in Mumbai.
Bharti said a rigorous method to plug gaps and improve the police’s street presence helped.
Every police station identified vulnerable spots in their areas.
The police also deployed more personnel at marriage halls after they found out chain-snatchers were targetting the decked-up guests at such functions.
They also increased their street presence across the city to curb the crime.
A source said, “For example, early in the morning, till about 7.30am, police personnel are posted at parks people go to for their morning walks.”
“ From 7.30 am to 8.30am, they are posted at schools as there is huge rush of parents dropping off children. As the day progresses, they are sent to railway stations, markets, temples and recreation halls.”
The police’s special ‘anti-chain snatching’ squads are cracking down on gangs.
“We decided to target gangs. Nakabandis are implemented at regular intervals,” Bharti told HT.
The squads have also been working on tracing offenders in their hideouts across the city.
“Our focus is on curbing street crime across the city and acting against chain-snatchers is an important part of this crack down,” said Bharti.