Only 10% calls to Delhi Police on snatching incidents lead to FIRs
Delhi Police received 55,556 distress calls from across the city to report incidents of snatching between January 1 and December 15, 2019, but only 5,898 snatching cases were registered in the capital during this period, according to official data analysed by HT.
The calls are in the log of the police control room (PCR) and largely account for residents dialing “100” – many of them to report the snatching of chains, cellphones and bags by men riding motorbikes.
The data shows that only 10.6% of these cases appear to have been converted by Delhi Police into first-information reports (FIRs), which are mandatory in cases of snatching, regarded as a heinous street crime under Section 356 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Several experts, including former police officers, described this variance in the numbers as “disturbing”, and saw it as an attempt to hide how unsafe Delhi streets really are.
Advocate LN Rao, who retired in 2015 as a deputy commissioner of police in the city after serving for over three decades, said it was alarming that the police refused to acknowledge how snatching had become a serious crime.
“It’s is a disturbing trend. By downplaying these cases, police are aiding criminals. The investigating officers who are assigned the case after getting information from control room are the ones who ensure that a case is not registered,” he said.
Multiple incidents over the past year have highlighted the menace of snatching in the capital. Several of the reported cases on Delhi’s roads made headlines, and in some of them, including one in Defence Colony on July 13, 2019, a 22-year-old man was stabbed to death for trying to resist a snatching attempt. No one was arrested in thecase.
Police commissioner Amulya Patnaik told HT in an interview soon after taking office on January 30, 2017 that snatching was Delhi’s single-biggest law-and-order problem. Since then, the police have highlighted curbing snatching as one of their successes. According to official data, snatching cases declined from 6,932 in 2018 to 5,898 in 2019.
But retired Indian Police Serve officer Vikram Singh, who was director-general of Uttar Pradesh police between 2008 and 2010, said the control room data was a better reflection of the ground reality. “Snatching is a worrisome crime in Delhi. By not registering a case, you (Delhi Police) are not even trying to diagnose the problem. We have seen that when police register a case and launch a probe, the criminals change their area of operation. By not filing a case or acknowledging the crime, you are allowing criminals a free run. Police should diagnose the problem, the area of problem and fix it,” he said.
Police can launch a probe and arrest snatchers only after an FIR is registered at the police station in the area where the crime takes place. The anomaly in the data corresponds with another concern – that of several “snatching” incidents being registered as “theft” in a bid to mask the heinous-crime numbers.
Last September, HT went through multiple FIRs through the year, and reported that in at least 100 cases between January 1 and September 20, victims complained to Delhi Police that bike-borne assailants “snatched” their belongings, but police registered cases under Section 379 (theft) of the IPC instead of Sections 356 and 392 (robbery).
In the Delhi Police crime table classification, “snatching” and “theft” fall under different heads. While the first -- force used to commit the theft of property -- is a street crime, the second is not.
A reflection of this trend is visible in official data. The total number of theft cases recorded in Delhi between January and December 15, 2019 was 165,524 as against 116,502 in 2018 -- up 42%.
Whether many of the “snatching” calls to PCRs led to “theft” cases being filed was unclear. But former IPS officer Singh said that the anomaly suggests that the police may have approached the complainants and told them to file theft complaints or missing reports.
“The victims in those remaining 50,000 cases (which were not registered as snatching FIRs) must have been told to file a case of simple theft, thereby downplaying the case, the force of the assault and the severity of the offence. A crime is made to look like it never happened — somebody losing his or her phone, wallet or bag is not a crime. But snatching involves the use of force,” he said.
There were also two high-profile snatching cases reported last year. In one, the victim was a city judge and, in the other, the niece of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both cases were cracked within hours. Delhi police in November said that of the over 4,000 snatching cases they filed in the first 11 months of 2019, they had solved 50% of the cases and arrested over 3,000 persons.
In response to the difference between the calls received and cases registered, Delhi police spokesperson Anil Mittal said, “It is incorrect to say that police do not register FIRs. Many times, the PCR team visits the spot but the victims leave the spot. This may be one of the reasons why the calls are more than the cases. Also in some cases, the same victim makes multiple calls. That may be the reason for the increase in the calls. “