UNTIL A few months ago, the problem of chain-snatching in Thane was bringing the city almost as bad a name as the mafia brought Mumbai in the 1990s. At least the Thane Police’s top brass thought so, for they have now begun to use the Mumbai Police’s ‘Top 20’ strategy, used earlier to fight the Mumbai underworld, to reduce the incidents of chain-snatching in the satellite town.
Back in the 1990s, when the underworld had a significant presence, Mumbai Police would circulate a ‘Top 20’ list bearing the names of 20 gangsters/hitmen who were most active at that point of time and were to be arrested on a priority basis.
The Thane Police has followed suit, and a list of the 20 most active chain-snatchers is now issued to police stations every month.
When IPS officer Param Bir Singh took over as Thane Police Commissioner in March 2015, it was clear to him that chain snatching was the biggest challenge for crime control here. In the preceding year, there had been 976 instances of chain snatching —nearly three a day.
Drawing from his experience in Mumbai, Singh then formed seven teams, one each for the five zones in the city and two teams of Crime Branch men who “gathered intelligence” about chain-snatchers.
They referred to CCTV camera footage, questioned arrested chain-snatchers and used old-fashioned informer networks to find out who was currently most active in the ‘circuit’. Every month, these seven teams would meet and draw up a list of Thane’s top 20 chain-snatchers.
“They did not have to be chain-snatchers who had the maximum cases against them. They were just the ones who were most active currently,” said Assistant Commissioner of Police Nagesh Lohar.
The list would be circulated across departments, with rewards in store for those who managed to arrest any one named in the list. Following a monthly review, the revised list would be circulated afresh.
Officers say the Top 20 lists have had a clear impact. In 2015, from January to June, 500 chain snatchings cases were registered. In the next three months, this went down to 300 cases.
The first list of Top 20 chain-snatchers was drawn up in July 2015. The same month, three from the list were arrested and an additional three names added. Between July and December 2015, eighteen of Thane’s most active chain-snatchers were arrested and their names struck off the list, to be replaced by others.
The early part of 2015 saw women in the satellite city in a panic as reports spread of other women reporting cases where a man zoomed past on a motorbike, hit them on the neck and snatched the chain, an officer said. He called it a “terrorising” crime for women. That sense of panic has been quelled to some extent, with habitual offenders wary of an arrest owing to the spate of arrests in the past six months.
Cases of chain snatching continue to be reported in Thane, but the numbers are on the wane, investigators say. And for now, the top-20 lists continue to be circulated.