Role-playing, motorcycle chases: How budding snatchers prepare in Delhi | Latest News Delhi - Hindustan Times
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Role-playing, motorcycle chases: How budding snatchers prepare for crime in Delhi

By, Shiv Sunny
Oct 24, 2023 12:04 AM IST

Delhi has reported at least 21 cases of snatching every day for the last five years, making it the most common crime in the Capital

It is a high-octane chase in broad daylight – the stuff of films. A biker whizzes past a busy, noisy Delhi market in a bid to escape the “cop” chasing him on a motorcycle. One day, he gets caught. Another, he escapes.

According to Delhi Police data , 5,018 FIRs on snatching have been filed in the city till September 30 this year. At least, 8,387 snatching cases were reported in 2022, and 9,383 cases in 2021. (HT PHOTO) PREMIUM
According to Delhi Police data , 5,018 FIRs on snatching have been filed in the city till September 30 this year. At least, 8,387 snatching cases were reported in 2022, and 9,383 cases in 2021. (HT PHOTO)

Either way, there’s no police action that awaits him at the end of the chase because there is no police; its just an elaborate rehearsal for when the young biker is ready for his first big “snatch”.

On the streets of Delhi, this is the drill to train “budding” snatchers. “They get into role play. One becomes the snatcher and the other a policeman as they chase each other through crowded streets or jammed roads. This practice is usually risk-free; at best it’s a traffic violation,” said a Delhi police officer, who has worked on several snatching cases in the Capital.

For the last five years, Delhi has reported at least 21 cases of snatching every day, police data show, making it the most common crime in the capital, and one, as interviews with police officers reveal, with not just a training system of its own (does the term “ice-cream plucking” mean anything to you?), but also interesting and emerging innovations (heard of snatcher couples?).

Phones over chains According to Delhi Police data , 5,018 FIRs on snatching have been filed in the city till September 30 this year. At least, 8,387 snatching cases were reported in 2022, and 9,383 cases in 2021. Reported cases are likely a fraction of the actual ones. According to the data, in 2022, three districts in the eastern range of the city – east, north-east and Shahdara –were the ones that saw most cases.

Most snatching cases are registered under Indian Penal Code sections 379 (theft) and 356 (assault or criminal force used during a theft), and the maximum punishment in such crimes is three years in jail. If a weapon is used in a snatching, the police additionally register a robbery case (IPC section 392) which could mean up to 10 years in jail.

Amit Goel, deputy commissioner of police (crime), said that mobile phones are the most snatched items in Delhi, simply because everyone has one, and, mostly, carry it in their hand. “Phones can easily be accessed by the snatchers. Chains, in contrast, require more skill to snatch and are not as easily available,” said Goel.

Double trouble Snatching, police officers explain, is rarely a one-person job. “Snatchers usually operate in pairs, and occasionally in groups. While pairing up, snatchers ensure that one of them is a skilled rider, and the other a skilled snatcher,” said a crime branch officer.

Delhi police officers say that in recent months, they have nabbed a few “snatcher couples.” “In June this year, Dwarka district police arrested Anuj Verma and his wife Kiran, allegedly involved in eight successful snatching outings. Verma allegedly rode the bike while his wife executed the actual snatching,” said Chinmoy Biswal, the then additional commissioner of police (west).

Earlier this year, the south-west district police arrested 25-year-old Gaurav Malhotra and his 23-year-old wife (whose name the police did not divulge), for their alleged involvement in a phone snatching case. The police claim the two decided to partner up as snatchers within four months of their marriage. In this case too, Malhotra allegedly rode the bike while his wife grabbed the victim’s phone.

The presence of a woman helps in more ways than one. Manoj C, the DCP (southwest), said: “When a woman rides pillion on a bike, it doesn’t arouse suspicion. Traditionally, two men would partner up to carry out snatchings.”

Ice-cream pluckers The chase this story opens with comes later in the education of most snatchers; for years now, they have been training on ice cream sticks. It was something the police first discovered in 2017 when they arrested Rahul Dutt and Habib Khan, and apprehended a minor for a series of snatchings in the city – including one in south Delhi’s Defence Colony where a woman was grievously injured .

“During interrogation, the accused told us about the ice cream stick trick,” said a second Delhi police officer. The aim, was to grab an ice cream stick from someone. “There were different ‘difficulty levels’ they devised, such as snatching an ice cream from someone on a highway or from someone in a narrow busy lane,” the officer added.

The three young men caught in 2017 confessed to having snatched 30-40 ice-creams each over two-three days before they were “ready to snatch items such as mobile phones and handbags,” the officer said. By the time they were arrested in February 2017, they had allegedly targeted over 250 people in 18 months, he added.

It made sense to practice with ice creams, the officer explained. “If they managed to escape, it was a good practice session. If they got caught, it was only a silly prank.”

YouTube tutorials In an era when there is a YouTube tutorial for just about anything, it isn’t surprising that there are videos online from which people can learn how to snatch. In March, Delhi police arrested Shantanu Rathi and Rohit Chillar (a national-level basketball player) for allegedly snatching gold chains. “In their interrogation, they revealed how they watched dozens of videos on YouTube to learn how to snatch and quickly flee the crime spot,” said M Harsha Vardhan, deputy commissioner of police (Dwarka).

Compared to phone snatching, chain snatching requires specialised skills as one must spot the chain, swoop in perfectly to grab it, break it and hold on to it while getting away, said the DCP. “This is one of the reasons why only a few snatchers go for chains; phones are easier,” he added.

Rathi and Chillar allegedly spent time watching CCTV footage of actual chain snatchings from across the world to learn how to “approach victims, swoop in, and get away,” said a third police officer. Apart from this, the two also watched motorcycle stunt clips to learn how to get away, added the officer.

Need for Speed Once partners in crime have been selected, and rehearsals have been done, it’s time to zero down on the vehicle to be used to carry out the crime.

“The accused scout for stolen motorcycles, with fake number plates to mislead the police,” said Special CP Ravindra Yadav. And there are suppliers that specialise in just this. Recently, 14 men were arrested from outer Delhi’s Mangolpuri, for allegedly renting out stolen motorcycles to snatchers. At least 116 motorcycles were recovered from them.

Snatchers are now increasingly using sports bikes, said police officers.

“These bikes can easily hit 100 km/h in six to seven seconds. Earlier, snatchers preferred Bajaj Pulsar, TVS Apache and TVS NTORQ scooters but now they often use sports bikes such as KTM and Yamaha R15. They know the value of every second while escaping, so they invest in such motorcycles,” said Yadav.

Over a year ago, three alleged snatchers – Sahib Ali, Mohammad Sanaullah and Sanjeev Shankar – were arrested from south Delhi’s Lajpat Nagar for a series of snatchings. Each of them rode a sports bike to commit the alleged snatchings.

Suraj Singh, who is accused of 34 snatchings, was arrested May last year from north Delhi’s Darao Rohilla -- with a KTM motorcycle. Sachin Niwas, accused of 80 snatchings in north-west Delhi’s Ashok Vihar, used a Yamaha R15. And there is Zaman Sahil, who rode a Suzuki Gixxer 250 and was arrested from New Friends Colony for allegedly snatching 51 phones in February.

But the bikes, and the way they are being riden now have also become a giveaway -- and police officers have learnt what to look for.

“Police personnel constantly look for suspects speeding on certain motorcycles, their registration plates, and their body language,” added DCP Goel.

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