Some crimes have a name but the criminals behind them have no recognisable face. Robbers, for example, can be recognised as criminals, even if too late, by the weapons they carry. But thieves and burglars carry no such telltale signs and look so ordinary that it becomes harder for the police to trace them out.
That is why, the police say that people must check the background of the domestic help they hire, ask for their national identity card and register them, and those they cite as references, with the local police.
Islamabad police have repeated this advice in the wake of increasing theft cases in the city, with the victims pointing to maid servants as the suspect.
Though ordinarily citizens don’t care much about such instructions, it has emerged that those precautions are not enough anymore. The petty, ordinary-looking criminals are getting smarter - and organised.
Recently, the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) of the capital police arrested four women and a man who had formed a cooperative to ply the trade. The gang had cleaned three houses after gaining employment there.
Their first victim was Aurangzaib Alamgir who lived in G-11/2. In April last year the gang members took away the valuables of the family worth Rs400,000.
Next they used the same tactic of gaining employment in a house in Lohi Bher and stealing cash and valuables worth over Rs500,000, and in March this year the gang struck the house of citizen Imtiaz Ahmed Taj, in I-8/3, cleaning it of ornaments and cash worth Rs550,000.
They made a haul of Rs1.45 million in the three strikes in a year but the SIU, despite its best efforts, could recover only a third of that amount from the criminals.
But their interrogation yielded the police their modus operandi. They said the gang scouted posh residential areas for spotting houses with servants and guards.
“After striking acquaintance with them with our pitiful tales we collected useful information about the masters of the house,” the police quoted one gang member as saying.
After gaining their sympathy and such vital information as the financial status and the number of family members in the house, the gang pleaded with the servants to help them get employment as housemaid at the house which looked most promising to them.
But they made it sure before making the request that the house needed extra hands. That way they could approach the master of the house for the job themselves – and with complete credentials.
Help of an in-service servant would have only saved the applicant from preparing fake ID cards and references.
It was never difficult, just a hassle, to produce photo copy of a CNIC card which carried the photo of its applicant member but the details of someone else. Or the copy of anyone’s CNIC as that of the applicant’s uncle or aunt since the applicant himself or herself was underage, the gang told the police investigators.
However, once hired and inside the house, “the real job” had to be finished within three or four days, not longer.
“First two days were spent in observing the routine of the family and know where it kept its cash and valuables and the next two days at the most to carter it away,” said a gang member.
Stolen cash presented no worry as “cash belongs to the person holding it”, said the gang.
Valuables and ornaments, however, had to be disposed of as quickly as possible and goldsmiths in Central Punjab offered a ready market for the stolen ornaments.
“We sold ours to buyers in Faisalabaad, Jhang and Sahiwal without any difficulty and also got a good price there compare to other cities and areas,” the gang members with some pride.
Police said that not more than half of the money the crime earned them could be recovered “because of the hurdles in the process”.
First, in accordance with the women protection law, the women in the gang were not given in police custody on physical remand to investigate theft cases. That made it difficult to get details of the disposal of the valuables they stole.
Then the women criminals easily got bail from the court under the same law. “Once released on bail, they just disappeared
and we got stuck in tracing them out again,” said police investigators. Even in cases where police succeed in squeezing out of woman thief information about the disposal of her haul, it is not easy to arrest the goldsmith she names as jewelers union trader unions stand up in resistance.
“And it is a real hard task to establish the guilt of a buyer as there exists no receipt or agreement about the sale and purchase deal of the stolen valuables,” say police officers and investigators. What is left to do under such circumstance? “Just verify and register them with police before hiring your servants and maids,” say police.
Published in Dawn, September 21st , 2015