Delhi doesn’t deserve to live in fear of snatching
Every day, the police register an average of 15-19 cases of snatchings in Delhi. Clearly, we are not safe even in the city’s busy public places.
The police cite multiple reasons for the occurrence of heinous crimes. Murders and kidnappings are often pre-meditated. House break-ins and robberies usually involve insiders.
But how does one explain snatchers brazenly grabbing a mobile phone, a handbag, a laptop satchel, a piece of jewellery from a person on a bustling street? How is one so easily targeted while travelling in a rickshaw or an auto-rickshaw on some of the busiest stretches of the city?
Also, with snatchers using knives and guns to intimidate their victims, such attacks are becoming increasingly violent. Rampant street crime can create fear in communities and Delhi is not reacting any differently.
For instance, it is not unusual for an auto-rickshaw driver to tell you to tuck your bag behind your seat lest a motorcycle-borne snatcher grabs it.
In many snatching-prone neighbourhoods, women have begun wearing pants or kurtas with large pockets so they don’t have to carry their purse in their hands when they step out in their neighbourhood. Even police warn residents to be careful with gold chains and earrings, and not to hold mobile phones in their hands while walking the streets.
For long, cases of snatching were not considered serious enough to go into crime records.
It is only in the last few years that police have started registering complaints of street crimes more “truthfully”.
Records show that after scaling a peak in registrations in 2015, the number of cases of snatchings registered by police fell by 17.7% last year as compared to the previous year. The police say that with mapping of vulnerable areas, deployment of special anti-snatching teams, picket checking and involving beat constables for early detection, they managed to solve 57% of such cases.
But even the 43% of unsolved street crime can have serious fallouts. Citizens, particularly victims of crime who reported them, lose confidence in the police.
A free-run allows petty criminals to graduate to committing more heinous and violent crimes.
The Delhi Police has sought a specific and harsher law to curb snatching with punishment ranging from five to 14 years, depending on the gravity of the crime.
Right now, the maximum punishment for snatching is three years.
This could help in busting established gangs, which are outsmarting cops using stolen bikes that can’t be tracked and sophisticated gadgets that can tamper with phones’ unique International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number so that the stolen goods can be sold in the black market without being detected. With access to weapons, they are also becoming increasingly violent.
Strict laws can be a deterrent but to paraphrase American politician Carrie P Meek, we can’t arrest our way to safety and security and have got to find other solutions to deter crime.
In the early 1990s, the New York police department (NYPD) adopted a zero-tolerance policy to curb street crime. Although it did bring the city’s crime rate down by 37% in just three years, the “stop-and-frisk” powers, for example, also led to wide-scale allegations of racial profiling.
The Delhi Police can’t risk causing social alienation considering that 97% of those arrested for snatching last year were first-timers and 55% were either illiterate or school dropouts.
Many of the snatchers in the city, police say, are minors.
Apart from good policing, Delhi also needs a community-based approach to tackle petty crime.
The Delhi Police runs Yuva, a youth engagement initiative that focuses on skill development and finding jobs for school dropouts, juvenile offenders, victims of crimes, and the vulnerable children of those incarcerated. So far, they have trained 5,000 teenagers. Out of these, more than 2,500 have got jobs.
While the police would do well to scale up this initiative, Delhi’s social and health workers, teachers and local community leaders must chip in to provide a safety net to vulnerable adolescents who could take to petty crime.
But to regain the trust of the citizen, the police must get more responsive and take cognizance of every single complaint they get.
Be it a petty or heinous crime, it requires accurate data for our police to get realistic estimates of what they are up against and the resources they need to tackle it.