Data available with the Mumbai police shows that 1,476 vehicles worth Rs 62 crore were stolen in the city until May this year. Of these, only 314 vehicles worth Rs 14 crore were recovered. While senior officers say vehicle theft is on steady decline, detection has only marginally improved over the past few years.
Since 2009, some 22,489 vehicles have been reported stolen, of which just 7,263 have been recovered, the data shows.
Street parking and well-oiled gangs have posed the biggest challenge for the police.
The Crime Branch wing that deals with motor vehicle thefts has only 120 arrests to show since 2011.
“We are dealing with sophisticated and multi-layered gangs. While we do manage to arrest the thieves, it is very difficult to penetrate further,” said Sadanand Date, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime).
According to Date, car thefts declined between 2012 and 2013 after a steep rise in 2011. “In 2014, there has also been a comparative reduction and the detection rate has increased, thanks to better co-ordination between the crime branch and police stations,” he said.
Cars stolen in Mumbai make their way to unsuspecting buyers all over the country, especially north and central Indian states. “Buyers never know where the cars they buy come from, especially when also receive paperwork,” said an officer.
Crime branch officers regularly visit housing societies to encourage residents to better secure their vehicles. “In most societies, we have seen that CCTV cameras are not present. And even when cars are parked on the street, owners do not bother to place wheel clamps, which are most effective protection against theft,” said a crime branch officer.
Cars parked unattended on streets are vulnerable to thieves who drive around residential areas at night. “Each gang member has specific role. While one is a spotter, others prise open locks and make duplicate keys,” said Date.
The police have an uphill task dealing with thieves who modify the chassis of a stolen vehicle. “Most commonly, the vehicles are registered in a different state and the chassis number is over-written before it eters Maharashtra. If we enforce nakabandis at every toll gate into the state, can you imagine the traffic pile-up?” Date said.