The threat of a terror attack may guide the city’s security protocol, but there is one street crime that continues to fluster investigators. Meghna Yelluru, Rohit Alok, Sandali Tiwari, Krishna Uppuluri and Bhagyashree Narkar profile chain-snatching, a crime dictated by speed and and the ‘need’ to make a quick buck.
The sudden and shrill screech of a bike’s brakes is often the last traumatic memory for the victims. And it is considered the fastest crime executed on Mumbai’s streets, finished in a fraction of a minute. If investigators are to be believed, it is simply a game of reflex, between the one chasing and the quarry.
With little investment apart from agility, tact and a bike to boot, chain-snatching continues to be the most difficult crime to crack for the Mumbai Police.
In 2013 alone, the total value of property stolen across the city was over Rs 13 crore. Only 793 of the over 2,000 cases could be detected — with less than Rs 2 crore recovered.
Easy money, police have concluded, is the motive.
A study by Mumbai Police in 2013 found that none of the gold mangalsutras, the common target of chain-snatchers, weigh less than three tolah (11.63 gram). “Instant money is very attractive. A chain-snatcher can earn anywhere between Rs 60,000 to Rs 1 lakh in one snatch,” says Additional Commissioner of Police Quaiser Khalid. The rising gold prices have made it most lucrative. In the last five years, steep prices (it stood at Rs 19,368 for 10 grams in 2009, compared to over Rs 30,000 last year) and a black market for the yellow metal make it the most tempting crime, say cops.
Compared to this, the policing statistic of one cop for every 200 Mumbaikars, explains Pravin Sawant, Assistant Inspector at Matunga police station, skews the equation in favour of the snatchers. So while police look to reinvent the wheel, the crime remains mostly a “game of wits”.
“The offenders are mostly always on the bike,” says Inspector Sandeep Bhagdikar of Gamdevi police station. While there is no “specific type”, officers say a pillion is trained to snatch, with the rider usually the one who knows the exits, if not the entire roadmap.
“Their hands have a good grip, and their upper torso is agile, making it easier for them to snatch, and balance their form, even as the tyres complete several revolutions per minute,” says a detection officer from Matunga Police station. The officer has profiled snatchers, and discovered that many often travelled with a college bag, and a cap and attire to match.
And mostly, they use traffic discipline to their safety. “They are always hiding behind helmets,” rues Bhagdikar. Deception is their best strategy, as they wear layers of clothes, often changing them on the run, cheating the wireless relayed by a trailing mobile van.
Their number plates also tell a different continued…