This case highlights the need for a neighbourhood watch program in every locality in the city. Neighbourhood watch is a community crime prevention scheme, where police and community volunteers work together. Neighbourhood crime prevention programs have existed in the USA, Canada and UK since the late 1960s. In Australia, the Neighbourhood Watch scheme began in Victoria in 1983.
However, the Mumbai police do not have any programmes that rope in citizens. Rajnish Seth, Joint Commissioner of Police (Law and Order), told HT that while the police do not have a neighbourhood watch system, beat marshals that patrol localities are supposed to interact with residents of localities. “The deputy commissioner of police and police stations in each area also keep in touch with the people and address their safety concerns. Residents do help the police in investigations,” said Seth.
The only area in the city to have a neighbourhood watch programme is Zone 9 in the western suburbs, which includes Versova, Juhu, DN Nagar, Santacruz, Bandra, Khar, Oshiwara and Amboli. Called Society Cop, the neighbourhood watch programme was started last year in July. Post the initiative, there has been a 23% decline in the number of registered crime cases in the area as compared to statistics of the previous months.
But neighbourhood watches have their own shortcomings as was illustrated with the Travyon Martin case in Florida (see box). Citizens, who have no formal training, may not be able to handle the responsibility and can abuse their power or worse still exploit it for their own purposes, said senior cops in the city.
Despite its downside, police recognise the importance of citizen participation. An investigating official in the Oshiwara murder, which took place on April 7, said, “Thanks to the alert resident, it was possible for the police to reach the scene quickly. The resident also forced the accused to escape in a hurry, which led to them leaving behind crucial evidence. This ultimately led to their capture.”
In the Oshiwara case, the resident went beyond just alerting the police. When the resident, who was in the parking lot, saw Tikku struggling at the window of his apartment, he immediately went up to the first floor with the society watchman. He confronted the two paying guests in the flat, who evaded his questions. Suspicious, he posted two guards outside the main door of the flat and called the police. This forced the accused to leave through the bathroom window in a hurry.
The Oshiwara case is not an isolated incident, where residents helped crack a case. In February, alert neighbours called up the police after Jayant Goswami, 30, allegedly tried to kill Sonal Goyani, 35, at her Malad residence and attempted to end his own life. Goyani was saved.
Citizen participation has not only helped solve everyday crimes, but also helped with terror cases. During the 1993 bomb blasts, a terrorist had parked a scooter with explosives in central Mumbai. A resident found it suspicious and alerted the police. The scooter led to conviction of the accused, Imtiyaz Ghawate, who had planted the bomb.