C for car thefts in capital, and cops who can’t keep up

A look at the world of tech-savvy car thieves, dipping police detection rates and cars that disappear without a trace.

Updated: March 21, 2016 11:47 am

In Delhi — a city with far too many cars and not enough space for them — vehicle theft cases have doubled in the last five years. 

Every 30 minutes, at least two cases of vehicle theft are reported in Delhi. In the last three years, as the number of such cases increased across the capital, the number of stolen vehicles actually found by the police dropped by nearly 15 per cent. A police officer explains how car thieves, mechanics, ‘receivers’ (who act as the middle-men between thieves and customers) and dealers operate together to ensure that stolen vehicles, once taken from Delhi’s streets, become virtually untraceable.

“The thieves hand over the stolen cars to receivers, who already have forged documents in place. They ask vehicle thieves to steal cars of a particular model, to match the documents. Then they change the engine chassis number of the stolen vehicle and sell it to second-hand car dealers at a considerable profit,” said the officer.

delhi-cars-759 The acute shortage of authorised parking spaces in the city forces vehicle owners to park their cars in the open. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

A closer look reveals that certain cars are more in demand and they are regularly targeted by vehicle thieves. In spite of an e-police station — inaugurated in April last year — to investigate vehicle thefts, the detection rate of such cases remained low. According to Delhi Police, the spike in vehicle thefts can be attributed to a variety of factors like rapid urbanisation and increasing socio-economic imbalances.

The issue came in the spotlight after Alok Kumar Verma, who took charge as Delhi police commissioner recently, expressed concern about the increasing cases of vehicle thefts. The police commissioner called a joint meeting of special commissioners, joint commissioners and deputy commissioners to discuss the issue. Verma also directed the heads of all 11 districts to activate the specialised anti-auto theft squads (AATS) — a unit dedicated to solving vehicle theft cases — as their detection rate had declined.

Verma’s predecessor B S Bassi had admitted last year that 90 per cent of vehicle theft cases went undetected. “The majority of vehicle theft cases registered with police go undetected… car owners should opt for a good alarm system and get a proper insurance cover for their vehicles,” he had said.

According to statistics provided by Delhi Police, between January 1 and March 15 this year, as many as 7,000 cases of vehicle thefts have been reported. Of the many vehicles stolen in Delhi, few are ever recovered.

Delhi, delhi cars, Delhi car theft, car theft in Delhi, Delhi crime, Delhi crime rate, Delhi stolen cars, Delhi Police, Delhi news

Here are some of the reasons for that:

Specialised units not up to the mark

In spite of the presence of specialised units, investigation of vehicle theft cases are often transferred to the Crime Branch, the monitoring unit of the e-police station. The investigation officer, who responds to a call to the Police Control Room, visits the spot, records the statement of the complainant and prepares a map of the crime spot, which is uploaded online. The case is then transferred to the Crime Branch. Such cases are usually not taken seriously, said sources, adding that investigators sometimes don’t even analyse the CCTV footage of the area.

After the police commissioner asked his force to focus on such cases, Special Commissioner of Police (law and order) Deepak Mishra called a meeting to put together a “special strategy” to tackle vehicle theft cases. Mishra told The Indian Express, “The meeting was attended by the in-charge of specialised units and station house officers (SHOs) of the two police stations most affected by such cases. We have prepared a strategy to curb such incidents and asked local police to coordinate with officers of specialised units”.

Big profits, low risk factor

Anil Chouhan, who allegedly ran an auto theft racket, was arrested last year. His bank account details revealed that in the last five years, he had made Rs 2.5 crore from his receivers, said police. Chouhan had earlier been arrested in 2005, when police had linked more than 80 vehicle theft cases to him and recovered 34 stolen cars from his possession.

According to police, Chouhan was initially a small-time car thief, but soon formed his own gang of auto-lifters. He and his associates stole vehicles ‘on demand’ — their receiver would tell them which car and model was needed and the gang would steal a vehicle with those exact specifications.

“The risk factor in vehicle thefts is low, as rules prohibit police from giving chase once the thief is behind the wheel of the car. The thief, while trying to escape, may end up injuring passers-by and damaging public property, while police are bound by rules and cannot chase them in a reckless manner,” said a police officer.

delhi-cars-2

Inexperienced policemen, joyrides

In some cases, police personnel deployed at barricades or checkposts were not able to nab the car thieves they were looking for, as they did not know how to handle such a situation. For example, after flagging down motorcyclists, policemen did not have any equipment to check whether the engine chassis number was accurate.

Police claim that motorcycles are often stolen by youth who only want it for a joyride. “After the joyride is over, they park the stolen bike in a parking lot miles away, from where they take another vehicle”.

Lack of parking space

The acute shortage of authorised parking spaces in the city forces vehicle owners to park their cars in the open, often on the side of the roads. Delhi Police have also claimed that a majority of vehicle owners are reluctant to install anti-auto theft equipment in their cars. Recently, AATS teams from several districts collated data to pinpoint the most vulnerable areas; they found that most of the stolen vehicles were either parked on the roadside or inside colonies which did not have a security guard.

Software-Savvy, Tech-Friendly Thieves Armed with latest technology and tools, car thieves find a way in

Auto-lifter gangs in the capital have turned tech-savvy, with many of them using Chinese software and other equipment to break into vehicles, said police. One such software, the Engine Control Module (ECM) code breaker, is available online and costs Rs 1 lakh.

Police estimate that 45 interstate auto-lifter gangs are currently operating in the capital. Explaining their modus operandi, a senior officer of the Delhi Police Crime Branch said the gangs no longer use conventional methods to break into vehicles. (Read more)

Shakarpur police station has the most car theft cases, and some other problems

With narrow roads, unauthorised parking and open areas on all sides, Shakarpur provides ample opportunities for vehicle thieves. This, combined with the large area of the locality (7.7 sq km) and severe staff crunch, has left the police force at Shakarpur helpless in the face of the rising number of vehicle thefts.

According to statistics provided by the Delhi Police, in 2015, Shakarpur police station recorded the highest number of vehicle thefts in the city. In the past five years, it has been among the top five stations with a high rate of vehicle thefts.

Like other police stations in the capital, Shakarpur too faces similar problems — along with a severe staff crunch, police personnel have to patrol the area round-the-clock, with only three gypsies and five motorcycles. As a result, police sources said deploying more personnel to patrol the area is not possible. Currently, the station has a strength of 252 police personnel, including three inspectors. (Read more)

How 11 motorcycles ended up inside a Haryana canal

When parts of Haryana’s Munak canal dried up last month, after it was taken over by protesters during the Jat quota agitation, an unlikely sight greeted local residents. At the bottom of the canal lay the skeletons of several vehicles, stripped of their batteries, tyres and other parts.

Most of them were motorcycles, stolen from Delhi between August and October last year and dumped at the bottom of the canal after their essential parts were removed. Munak canal is one of the main sources of water for the residents of Delhi.

When police tried to trace the owners of the vehicles, they ran into an unexpected hurdle. Most of the owners had already claimed, and collected, insurance for their stolen vehicles, after police filed ‘untraced’ reports in the courts concerned. (Read more)

INTERVIEW
with Special Commissioner of Police (Crime Branch), Taj Hassan

Delhi, delhi cars, Delhi car theft, car theft in Delhi, Delhi crime, Delhi crime rate, Delhi stolen cars, Delhi Police, Delhi newsWhat is your strategy to curb the increasing number of vehicle thefts in the city?

Delhi Police’s Crime Branch, along with local police, has prepared several strategies and started identifying gangs of auto-lifters. We have also activated the Anti Auto Theft Squad of all the districts and asked them to focus on the detection of vehicle theft cases.

Do you have any suggestions for vehicle owners?

People should install all the security devices in their cars and also park their vehicles in authorised parking spaces, instead of parking them on the side of the road. The resident welfare associations (RWAs) should ask their security guards to allow cars in their locality only after giving them a token.