Snatching data shows dip but street reality different
The maximum sentence under Section 379 is three years, that under Section 356 is two years and under Section 392 is 10 years.Updated: Sep 30, 2019 05:50 IST
Delhi Police have been registering several cases of snatching as simple theft, found an HT analysis of crime data between January 1 and September 20, in a practice that experts said may explain the Capital’s declining street crime numbers at a time when anecdotal accounts suggest it is one of the biggest problems plaguing the city.
In at least 100 FIRs registered in the aforementioned nine-month period that HT reviewed, victims complained to Delhi Police that bike-borne assailants “snatched” their belongings – such as jewellery, money or mobile phones -- but police registered first information reports (FIRs) under Section 379 (theft) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) instead of Sections 356 (assault or criminal force to commit theft) and 392 (robbery).
The maximum sentence under Section 379 is three years, that under Section 356 is two years and under Section 392 is 10 years.
In the Delhi Police crime table classification, “snatching” and “theft” fall under different heads. While snatching -- force used to commit the theft of property -- is a street crime, theft is not. If a snatching case is filed under theft, it doesn’t get added to the city’s street crime numbers. This is important because experts say street crime is seen as a direct reflection of a city’s law-and-order situation and policing.
“The number of street crime is the direct consequence of the state of law-and-order in the city,” said LN Rao, a former deputy commissioner of Delhi Police.
Over the past two weeks, Delhi Police has said street crimes such as snatching and robberies are on the decline due to tough measures even as reports have poured in of increasingly violent snatching incidents in the heart of Delhi, some in broad daylight. These include the murder of a man in Sagarpur during a snatching attempt, the violent assault on a woman near the Delhi Zoo, and motorbike-riding criminals chasing a couple through the streets of central Delhi.
According to Delhi Police crime data, the number of cases of snatching decreased from 9,571 in 2016 to 6,932 last year – a fall of around 27%. The corresponding decline between September 15 last year and this year is roughly 4%.
But in the same time period, cases of “other theft” – which covers less serious crimes such as pickpocketing and loss of belongings -- went up from 77,563 in 2016 to 138,596 last year – a jump of 79%. The increase between September 15 last year and this year is 48%.
Legal experts and former police officers say this is because Delhi police is indulging in what is known as a “technical burking“ of street crime data.
“Snatching figures will definitely come down if you register all cases as theft. By doing this, you are letting criminals have a field day. There is a clear distinction between theft and snatching,” said Rao, who worked in the force for over three decades.
When contacted, Delhi Police said all complaints filed at police stations are monitored by seniors officers and “incorrect sections” are used only in stray cases.
“All complaints are monitored by deputy commissioners of police. There are over 180 police stations where thousands of complaints are filed. We make every effort to check that complaints are registered truthfully and under correct sections. There may be stray cases at the police station level where incorrect sections may have been used. We will take action against the erring officers,” said deputy commissioner of police Mandeep S Randhawa.
There are several examples in the FIRs reviewed by HT.
On the morning of September 20, three bikers snatched Roop Nagar resident Raghunandan Mishra’s mobile phone. In his statement, Mishra wrote “phone snatched” by three men but police registered the case under IPC Section 379(theft), and made him file the FIR online.
“At the police station, they said I would have to register an FIR online. They even helped me register the online FIR. I do not know the law well. I do not know about the sections. It has been nine days but I am yet to hear from them,” said Mishra.
In the sensational case of woman journalist whose phone was snatched by motorbike-borne assailants in Okhla on September 23, police initially filed a case of theft, which was changed to snatching only when CCTV footage of the incident became viral. “I went to the police station the same night and they helped me file an FIR. At the police station, they helped me file the FIR online. They said I had to do it online,” the woman said.
The same trend was observed in the case of FIRs filed directly at police stations.
On February 11, Akhil Ahmad, a general manager with a central government road agency, was a victim of snatching in sector 18 of Dwarka. He wrote in his complaint, “While I was in front of …and talking on the phone, two boys came from behind on a motorcycle and snatched my phone and run away.” Ahmad went to the Dwarka North police station, where a duty officer filed the FIR under Section 379. Ahmad said he hasn’t heard from the police since.
A mid-level Delhi Police officer, who did not wish to be named, said that until a few years ago, police used not just register snatching under not just Section 356 but also Section 392, which has the highest quantum of jail time, to nab snatchers and identified them.
In a reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha on the snatching of the Ukrainian ambassador’s phone, then minister of state for home, Hansraj Ahir, on December 20, 2017, mentioned Section 356 as the relevant section in the case. He responded that Section 356 “provides provision to pertaining to assault or criminal force in attempt to commit theft of property carried by person”. Delhi Police reports to Union home ministry. In the case, police had registered the complaint under both Sections 356 and 379.
Former Uttar Pradesh director general of police, Vikram Singh, said Delhi Police should crack down on snatchers. “I have been seeing the CCTV footage of the snatchings and these are alarming. It is happening everywhere across Delhi and every day. Instead of quoting data, Delhi Police must gauge the public perception,” he added.
First Published: Sep 30, 2019 01:02 IST