Is the famed Mumbai Crime Branch losing its sheen? Once the backbone of the Mumbai police, charged with dismantling the city’s underworld, investigating terrorist attacks and solving complex murder cases, the elite investigation unit has of late been struggling to retain experienced officers or attract bright new ones. It now has only a handful of officers who know the city well.
Many of the crime branch’s best officers have retired or been transferred. While these issues aren’t new, or specific to the crime branch, the department has gone into slow decline as most inspector-rank officers are reluctant to be posted with it.
The lack of experience among crime branch officers, police sources said, was apparent from the way they handled the mephedrone racket involving alleged drug dealer Shashikala Patankar. On March 9, a police team seized 114 kg of what was believed to be mephedrone from the Satara home of constable Dharmaraj Kalokhe (52) of the Marine Drive police. The next day, another 12kg of mephedrone was found in Kalokhe’s cupboard at the police station. But when tests by the state’s Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) revealed that the powered substance was ajinomoto, the police were left red-faced.
Over the past few weeks ago, 10 to 15 senior police inspectors from the crime branch have been transferred to police stations. Some senior crime branch officials had expressed their desire to work at police stations and the original plan was to shift about 30 officers between the ranks of inspector and assistant inspector. While their official reason was completion of tenure, many said off the record that they were frustrated with working conditions at the crime branch. However, following opposition to this move, some of the officers were retained in the crime branch.
The department’s biggest body blow, however, came months earlier. Before the general transfers of Indian Police Service (IPS) officers in mid-April, the crime branch comprised crime units, a cyber-crime cell, an economic offences wing (EOW), an anti-narcotics cell and a social service branch (SSB). In the reshuffle, however, the crime branch lost its economic offences wing (EOW), which was constituted as a separate department with its own joint commissioner.
The crime branch was originally conceived as a detection arm, which would unearth crimes and hand over suspects to police stations. However as many recent high-profile cases – such as the murder of Minoti Parekh in February 2015 and the murder of Chandra Raheja in Santacruz a few days ago – were detected by local police stations, the crime branch’s efficacy is in question.
The other major issue the crime branch faces is that many of its officers, despite having the title of assistant police inspector, are actually not very experienced and don’t know the city well. According to a senior IPS officer, who did not wish to be named, “From being a newly recruited police sub-inspector, one is promoted to the rank of an assistant police inspector in about six years. If you take out the training period of a sub-inspector, an officer of the rank of an assistant police inspector barely has four years of field experience. Four years is too little to learn the nuances of Mumbai and its crime patterns.”
He added, “There is a need to change the system of recruitment and promotions in a manner which will ensure that we create and retain experienced officers.”