With one policeman for every 413 residents, Chennai has one of the lowest police-public ratios in the country

The city's crime rate of 169.7, which is the ratio of number of reported crimes per lakh of population, is relatively low in comparison to other metropolitan cities. However, as cities grow economically and expand, the nature and profile of crimes also seem to evolve.

Changes in crime pattern in Chennai are already beginning to emerge. There has been a surge in cyber crime and document fraud in the past few years with the Crime Branch recording over 650 such cases annually. Youth and juveniles are increasingly resorting to chain snatching and petty thefts as a shortcut to a lavish life in mega cities, says a National Crime Records Bureau status report.

India's 35 mega cities (with population of over one million) account for nearly one-third of all the reported crimes in the county and “peculiar problems such as unchecked migration, illegal settlements, diverse socio-cultural disparities and uneven distribution of incomes are fuelling criminal activities,” the report says.

Geographic mapping

With 97 per cent of reported chain-snatching and theft cases happening on the road, various preventive measures are being taken to make the city's streets safer, says Home Secretary Rameshram Mishra. The city police's strategy, he explains, would be to build a profile of offenders, geographically map crime, increase visible policing, instal CCTVs, and strengthen the Jail Release Watch system.

Many large police limits such as Velachery and Neelankarai might also be redrawn.

A proposal recommending the need to setup new police stations at Kanathur and Taramani will soon be submitted to the State government.

Some localities such as West Mambalam and Taramani, which were once considered reasonably safe, are increasingly becoming more prone to crime. The city has outgrown many of its administrative boundaries. Residents of West Mambalam which is covered by the Kumaran Nagar police station have also started demanding a separate police station, claiming that chain snatching and waylaying incidents are on the rise at night. The murder of two sisters, both senior citizens, at their residence on K.R. Koil Street in West Mambalam last May has spread fear, says a West Mambalam resident. Police is yet to crack the double murder.

Since elderly residents living alone are being repeatedly targeted, it makes sense for them to register at the nearest police station, Mr.Mishra says. “The police would be willing to maintain such a database, which will be similar to the ‘locked house register.' The beat constable would then regularly visit their homes and a sense of security would develop slowly.”

Beat officers

In this light, Commissioner of Police, J.K. Tripathy's plan to reintroduce the concept of ‘Beat Officers' is seen as a welcome move. But, with one policeman for every 413 residents, Chennai has one of the lowest police-public ratios in the country. Many of them are also diverted for VIP protection.

Former Police Commissioner of Chennai R. Nataraj says that the beat system is a very good concept, but the larger issue is the need to move towards a people-friendly policing system. “If the police are going to remain within an imposing building protected by armed guards, the people will never come to them. We developed the concept of police booths that would come up in sensitive spots. There were over 300 of them tasked with deflecting or postponing crime. But the system has been slowly dismantled. At present, we only have reactive policing.”

Recommending various measures to improve the city policing structure, Mr.Natraj says that confidence building exercise must be undertaken on a continuous basis and motorcycle patrol should be intensified. “Small vehicle patrol is very crucial. It plays a role in deterring crime as well as reaching the crime scene first. Also, the budget of police stations that do not perform should be cut and appointments must be depoliticised,” he adds.

Agreeing with the need for more patrolling, R. Thilagaraj, head of the Department of Criminology, Madras University, says that geographic information system (GIS) based crime maps show that a number of crimes happen right next to the police station. “Just the presence of a station is not enough. Organised crime preventing groups and community policing makes a difference. Our perception of crime also needs to change. There is a remarkable level of tolerance to systemic crime such as corruption and denial of socio-economic rights.”

Stressing the need for crime prevention, he says existing welfare measures such as the ‘Boys Club' scheme need to be revamped to prevent children living in slum tenements from being drawn to antisocial activities. “Crime is an integral part of any society. But it can definitely be minimised and controlled through effective intervention,” Mr. Thilagaraj adds

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