DURING a recent visit to the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Karachi Additional Inspector General Javed Odho landed in hot waters when he suggested that the business community was ‘shooting itself in the foot’ by raising a hue and cry over the incidence of crime in the city.
With such claims doing the rounds, why would investors come to your metropolis in the first place, he asked.
To justify his position, Mr Odho had claimed that while there was an uptick in the incidence of street crime, particularly in “the first week of September”, police efforts had managed to bring that under control.
However, this time around, he argued, incidents of kidnapping, child abduction and motorcycle theft had gone down considerably, while “targeted killings were almost zero”.
Whether the police officer’s logic was sound or not, the remarks drew the ire of the city’s business and political circles alike, with senior MQM-Pakistan leader Khawaja Izharul Hassan going so far as to say that it appeared as if the official was giving robbers a license to loot with impunity.
While official data suggests situation in 2022 is little better or worse than previous year, police and public response to recent uptick in street crime could be better managed
Others also reacted sharply, saying the police were in a state of denial. It was also claimed that law enforcement was under pressure to keep the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party government’s failings under wraps, since they had failed to control the law and order situation. Opponents even went as far as to allege that the party had a stake in the disorder plaguing the city.
But according to Malir SSP Irfan Bahadur, Mr Odho’s observations were given a rather sensational and misleading twist.
He blamed certain elements for spreading sensation and insecurity among citizens by sharing videos on social media, many of which were of crimes committed in other countries, and passing them off as incidents happening in Karachi.
He is not wrong; a gruesome video doing the rounds recently, with the caption: “Blind firing on a family at Red Apple and Baloch Ice Cream in Gulistan-e-Johar” has been viewed and shared thousands of times this month.
It makes for brutal viewing, two men in baseball caps walk up to a family in a car and pepper them with small arms fire. A circumstantial glance reveals plastic chairs around patio tables, much as one would expect to find outside a roadside eatery in Karachi.
Only, the video is from Ecuador, of an incident reported by Spanish language papers in May of this year.
This video, which was the subject of a recent AFP fact check, highlights the problem the Malir SSP is referring to, and in his words, police have decided to take such elements to task.
An examination of the data reveals that the police contention isn’t too flawed; crime stats from corresponding periods in 2021 and 2022 are not too dissimilar.
The data reviewed by Dawn revealed there was an increase in snatchings of mobile phones and motorbikes and theft of four-wheelers and two-wheelers. However, there was a decrease in the number of murders or injuries during robberies, house robberies and snatching of four-wheelers this year as compared to the previous year.
However, the official data is not a true indicator of the situation on ground as it is an open secret that countless people who have fallen prey to street crimes in the metropolis during the same period had either decided not to approach the police due to a huge trust deficit or their FIRs were not lodged by the law-enforcers.
Murder or injury during robberies reduced upto 6.62pc, house robberies decreased by 20.98pc, car snatchings saw a 29.34pc decrease, but what did see a significant uptick was the snatching of mobile phones, a total increase of 18.3pc.
Car theft was also up by 15.71pc, while bike snatching and theft saw a minute increase of 0.84pc and 1.37 pc, respectively.
A retired senior police officer, who wished not to be named, blamed a host of factors for the prevalence of street crime in the city.
He claimed that while 60-70pc of criminals did get arrested, they were either acquitted or released on bail due to the serious failings in forensic investigation capability and witness protection. Political interference was also another issue in recruitment and transfer postings.
He also held the easy disposability of stolen mobile phones as a reason for the rise in snatching. “There are buyers available who operate as a mafia and it isn’t easy to take them down.” Similarly, motor bikes are also easy to off-load, he says, but stricter checks on number plates could make some difference.
Senior Counterterrorism Department (CTD) official Raja Umer Khattab told Dawn that CCTV cameras were the key to controlling crime now. He gave the example of bank robberies, which used to be in vogue until security footage helped police track down some big heists. After this, criminals would seldom target banks themselves, preferring to loot customers who had made withdrawals outside the secure confines of the bank buildings.
In terms of manoeuvrability, he said the Shaheen Force could be very effective, since ungainly police mobiles could not effectively pursue suspects through Karachi traffic. “They can be useful for investigation but it cannot arrest the criminals as the pillion riding suspects use small streets in their bid to flee. In these circumstances, bike-patrolling can become effective as they can surface suddenly at any place.”
He also refuted what he termed “propaganda” that crimes have increased because of the arrival of flood victims in the city. Based on his experience, he said there was nothing to back up this claim and it was mere speculation.
“Crimes can be controlled through coordination between the police and the public - both are at fault. Citizens do not want to become witnesses and when police prepare a case, criminals usually get bail.”
Blaming long wait times for minor cases to go to trial for the lack of people’s interest in pursuing cases, he said: “Until all of us — civil society, police and judiciary — are not onboard, these crimes cannot be controlled.”
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2022