Footage vs tip-off: CCTVs replace police informers
Increased use of technology, such as CCTV cameras, has impacted the work of police informers in Delhi, according to anonymous sources.
“They don’t need me like they did earlier... Now the police have CCTV cameras, hi-tech phone surveillance.”
The speaker is a 53-year old man from north Delhi’s Kashmere Gate. He owns seven paan shops in Delhi and is the father of two. He also has a secret life -- he moonlights as a Delhi police informer, something he has been doing for 12 years. He claims to have helped the police solve at least 100 cases – from murders to snatchings to drug trafficking .
“My wife has an idea (of what I do) because she has heard me speak to sahab log on the phone, but my children have no clue. I can’t tell anyone. What if my cover is blown?”
But it is a way of life that is under threat.
Three informers (including the paan shop owner) that spoke to HT on condition of anonymity said that increased use of technology, especially the presence of CCTVs, has impacted their work, and bruised their relationship with the police.
An inspector-rank officer, who asked not to be named, said that till five years ago, taking the CCTV route was not the most obvious first step that police personnel took while working on a case.
“They weren’t common then, but now they are installed in streets, and even arterial roads. Our modus operandi has changed and as investigators, the first thing we look for is CCTV footage”.
The officer insisted that despite everything “ we still can’t function without informers.”
That’s seconded by retired assistant commissioner of police (ACP) Rajinder Singh, who was a part of the special investigation team that cracked the 2012 gang rape and murder case. “You can have CCTVs in the streets and identify suspects but there are many times when we need our informers to tip us where a suspect can be found or how he can be lured out of hiding,” he said.
But the paan shop owner is convinced their time is done. “We have been replaced,” he says. “Back in the day, I would meet my police contact two-three times a week, but now, they take three days just to return my call.”
A senior police officer told HT that Delhi Police does not maintain any data on informers. “Most of the officers and police personnel have their set of informers. The type of crime dictates how many informers an investigator will have. For instance, in an area where robberies and snatching cases are common, a head constable-rank officer is likely to have several informers, but an investigator who works on organised crime involving gangs may have one or two significant informers.”
Nor is there a formal induction process by which informers are recruited. Often, it is just happenstance -- as it was in the case of the paan shop owner.
In 2000, he first provided information that helped solve a crime, a simple theft.
The policeman he shared the information with assured him that his identity would not be leaked. “I was aware of a lot of things happening in my locality, so I would often tell him about it... Slowly, we formed a relationship,” he said.
To relay tips, he often landed at the police station. “Mobile phones were not too common in the mid-2000s. It was safer to meet in person, but one had to be cautious to not be identified.”
His first big “victory” came in 2004 when he helped police solve a murder , that of a 24-year-old woman in north Delhi’s Subzi Mandi area. “The police were looking for the woman’s ex-partner, who they suspected of having killed her as she had rejected him. The accused wanted to give an impression of a robbery, so her gold chain was missing,” he said.
There were no eyewitnesses or CCTV footage. News of the gruesome murder reached the informer. “I spoke to people casually about the case, including my employee who handled my paan shop in Kashmere Gate. He mentioned that on the afternoon of the murder, a man with blood on his hands had stopped by at the shop and asked for water. The worker told me that the man said he had injured himself .”
Armed with this information, he went to the beat officer, who got a sketch prepared of the accused by speaking to the informer’s employee. Two days later, the accused was arrested.
“But if this murder was reported today, police would have accessed CCTV footage and identified him. His mobile phone would have been put under surveillance and he would have been caught... I know that obtaining and viewing CCTV footage is a time consuming exercise, but this is the procedure they would have followed,” said the paan shop owner.
There are 2,46,424 CCTVs installed by the state government in Delhi; over 10,000 CCTV and automatic number plate recognition cameras installed by the Delhi police; and an unaccounted number of CCTVs put up by residents of the city.
The paan shop owner added that he will continue to help the police.
“I believe I am doing something useful for society.”
For others, it is a matter of pride, or of simply knowing “powerful” policemen.
“I like having policemen as friends. I can’t flaunt my equation with them but if I need any help, I can seek some favours. If a family member gets into trouble, I know that I can ask the police to help me out,” said a 40-year-old informer from northeast Delhi’s Maujpur.
A taxi driver by profession, he has been a police informer for 15 years. No one – including his wife and children – is aware . “There are many criminals where I live, and some of them are my friends. If they get to know that I am a police informer, I will get into trouble,” he said.
He too gets the sense that his services are of limited utility now.
“They (the police) only call me when they need petty information. They have so much information available on their computers now,” he said.
Then, there are informers for whom money is the primary motive
Till a few years ago, each deputy commissioner of police (DCP) was allotted a separate fund which the subordinate officers used to pay the informers.
“There used to be a special fund for informers till a few years ago. It did not have a specific name. It was discontinued,” said a senior police officer, who asked not to be named.
A Delhi police sub-inspector, who asked not to be named, said that the amount paid to the informers depends on the type of crime they help solve. “For a murder or dacoity case, an informer can be paid between ₹5,000- ₹10,000, while in a snatching or robbery case, we will pay ₹200- ₹500,” he said.
A 37-year-old informer in east Delhi’s Gandhi Nagar said he first started giving tips to the police almost a decade ago when he was a daily wage labourer who barely earned enough.
“For any tip that helped solve a case, police officials would give me ₹500- ₹600. I needed that. Now, they rarely need me,” he said.
Not all informers are driven by money or pride; some also turn to the police to seek revenge . A 45-year-old assistant sub-inspector-rank officer posted in a district’s special staff, who ran networks of informers for over 15 years, said that several settle their scores using investigators. Sometimes, he added, the police would act, only to find out that the person they were targeting had nothing to do with the crime in question.
But there’s not much the police can do for their informants, even reliable ones.
A retired sub-inspector recalled how his top four informers were members of notorious gangs who helped him solve a few cases, and who were largely “loyal” to him. “Two of them were killed in a police encounter and one is lodged in jail; we can’t do much to save them.”