Footprints: robbery in broad daylight

Updated December 02, 2016

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LAHORE: Omer Jahangir and his mother have not yet fully recovered from the trauma. Though a week has passed since they were robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight, they are still wary of venturing out. During the two-and-a-half minute looting spree, the four robbers fired guns into the air and deprived Jahangir’s mother of the gold jewellery she was wearing. The question is, why were policemen absent from their duty points?

The incident occurred on the morning of Nov 21. Jahangir and his mother left their Gulberg residence at around 9:15am. When they reached the traffic signal at Maryan Chowk near Faisal Town, four men on two motorbikes approached their car; all around there was heavy traffic. One of the men took position on the driver’s side and the other on the passenger side and demanded that Jahangir’s mother roll down her window.

“My mother tried to give him her purse which had Rs4,000 in it,” recalls Jahangir. “But the robber gestured with his weapon at her jewellery. As she started removing it, he suddenly smashed the car window and shouted at her to be quick. The broken glass fell on her.”

Then, the men loosed off several shots into the air. Curiously, the young robbers did not take away the cash and cell phones from their victims; they were interested only in the jewellery. The victims wonder if they had been tailed for some time.

When they called the police, the family got the standard emergency-line response, and they returned home without any face-to-face interaction with the law. They suspect that their grievances were later listened to properly because a person in a nearby car recorded the robbery as it unfolded, and shared it on social media.

Thereafter, senior police officers began contacting Jahangir, and the incident also came to the attention of the provincial police authorities. Even so, the victims say that the Garden Town SHO was not serious about their case, saying that such incidents are routine.

The family feels let down by all around: by the absence of the police patrol, especially the newly launched and well-equipped Dolphin Force; the inability to register a complaint via telephone; and the police’s lethargy in collecting empty shells and other evidence from the crime scene.

“For about seven years, I used this road to go to university and nothing like this ever happened,” says Jahangir, a chemical engineer and the son of a senior bureaucrat. “The government has spent huge amounts on the police department to raise multiple forces to fight street crime. But they cannot overcome the problem.”

Multiple patrolling force models, such as the Mujahid Squad, the Tiger Squad and the Mohafiz Force –– all of which were raised to fight street crime –– have failed to deliver. Meanwhile, because of the footage of this incident, and a couple of others including that of a hold-up in Liberty Market, commuters view every motorcyclist with suspicion.

Criticism of the police centres on the force relying on the old method of putting down pickets and checkpoints on the roads instead of catching offenders. Men of the Dolphin Force were recently caught playing cricket or being on their mobile phones.

Though it is claimed that the street crime analysis of the first 10 months of 2015 and 2016 shows a small decrease (2,179 cases in Jan-Oct 2016 against 2,692 in Jan-Oct 2015), this has to be balanced by the fact that many such incidents do not come to the notice of the police. And in some cases, the police –– instead of registering an FIR –– compensate complainants with cash and mobile phones. Though the PML-N government is spending billions of rupees on the safe city project, citizens seem dissatisfied with the results.

Deputy inspector general of police (operations) Dr Haider Ashraf says that police patrols in the form of the Dolphin Force and the Police Response Unit launched a few months ago have enhanced police visibility and reduced street crime by up to 35 per cent in the past six months or so. He adds that 689 Dolphin Force personnel equipped with sophisticated weapons, android phones and other gadgetry cover only 138 urban beats out of the total 277 beats of the capital city district from 4pm to 12am (one shift) as the pilot project; 1,200 personnel who are under training will be deputed in three shifts after a couple of months.

Haider says the Maryan robbery took place on a day when more than 7,000 policemen were guarding the Chehlum events and the Urs of Data Ganj Bakhsh. He further says that the deployment of 2,416 Dolphin Force personnel on 277 beats (urban and rural) in the future will overcome street crime. According to him, police personnel are engaged in maintaining law and order, security and VIP duties because of increasing threats in Lahore. Further, he explains, the motorbikes, cars, and police station vehicles of the Dolphin Force and the Police Responses Unit, and the Mujahid Squad emergency vehicles, have been interlinked through android phones.

Many citizens still fear, though, that new police units costing millions will inevitably eventually become units guarding VVIPs.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2016