Gone in sixty seconds

More vehicles were stolen in the capital than five other cities combined in 2012. This makes it all the more important for vehicle owners in the city

Families with cars or two-wheelers need to watch out. Delhi Police statistics say around 40 vehicles are stolen on an average every day.

Another shocking fact is this: more vehicles were stolen in the capital last year than the number of those lifted in Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad put together.

National Crime Records Bureau’s report for 2012 says there were 14,446 motor vehicle thefts in the capital last year, compared to 11,457 motor vehicles stolen from the five other cities. Police managed to recover only 2,971 vehicles.

Compare this with the other cities. Only 5,090 vehicle theft cases were filed in Bangalore, followed by 4,075 in Mumbai, 1,370 in Hyderabad, 659 in Kolkata and 263 in Chennai.

According to Ravindra Yadav, additional commissioner of police (crime and railways), thieves in the city are mostly on the lookout for two-wheelers. The reason being the little effort required to hide or dispose them.

When it comes to car thefts, the ‘demand and supply’ model determines their action.
“Usually, when a car is stolen the thieves keep it in their hideout for a day. So, the chances of recovery are high on the first day or it might not be recovered at all,”  says Yadav.

Statistics reveal that 8,996 scooters and motorcycles were stolen in Delhi last year, while 4,760 cars and jeeps were lifted. The capital also witnessed thefts of 16 buses, and 184 trucks and tempos.  Among the 490 other vehicles stolen were tractors, carts and three-wheelers.

Fake documents are prepared for the stolen vehicles, and they are then sold directly to customers or to middlemen for Rs 10,000 to 50,000.

The reluctance of owners to install safety devices is a major factor in vehicle thefts.  Non-availability of parking places in residential areas and near commercial complexes is another.

“Increasing number of vehicles and growing population is something that our department is finding difficult to deal with. We believe the vehicle owners must also take strong measures to protect their assets,” adds Yadav.

Senior police officers insist that a GPS based vehicle-tracking software costing around Rs 10,000 can help locate a stolen vehicle using mobile phones and Internet. Yadav claims thieves have learned that stealing is lucrative, but not a secure profession to be involved in anymore.

“They stay especially clear of vehicles displaying a GPS system sticker. Insurance companies also look favourably on owners installing the software,” says an officer working under Yadav.

Naman Mishra, sales manager with Maruti Suzuki, says the software provides accurate information on the vehicle's whereabouts. “It can be used to instantly track a stolen vehicle’s whereabouts. Also, where the vehicle is being taken to,” he adds.

They now also provide car central locking system which can lock or unlock the vehicle by simply sending an SMS, says Mishra. “We also provide provision to hear audio from inside the car and also talk to the occupants.”

A central locking system can be installed for Rs 4,000 to Rs 5,000, while a gear lock can be put in at a cost of Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,000.

Rural market

The demand for stolen vehicles is higher in villages and the interiors of the country. Yadav, however, says there are no particular target areas for the thieves.

When it comes to cars, Yadav maintains, small cars are the preferred option for thieves and there is a lesser demand for big stolen cars. When people spend a big amount, they want to take fewer risks – and keep off stolen cars.

Police believe criminals usually abandon stolen vehicles on the roadside to avoid detection in the initial days. In a bid to tackle the menace, police stations have been told to scour an abandoned vehicle for fingerprints before seizing it.

The move, police say, helps reduce vehicle thefts and nab habitual offenders.

The collected fingerprints are matched with the database of existing criminals, making it easier for police to zero in on auto-lifters. “We have a strong database of criminals’ fingerprints, and there is a decent possibility of finding a match of auto-lifters in it. This can also be used as evidence in court,” says B S Jaiswal, deputy commissioner of police (south).

Every district police force in the capital also has an anti-auto theft squad, which keeps details of active auto-lifters. “Police stations have also been directed to check parking lots regularly to see if any stolen vehicle is parked there,” adds Jaiswal.

Police also conduct checks at scrap dealers' shops to stop stolen vehicles from being dismantled. “We identify active auto-lifters and keep a track of their movements,” says Jaiswal.

Investigating officers have also been told to oppose bail pleas of repeat offenders to ensure that they do not return to vehicle theft after their release.

Modus operandi

In a bizarre modus operandi unearthed by police, a second year animation and film student used to utilise his talent by selling stolen motorcycles through online shopping portal Quikr.

Sachin Sharma, studying at CG Mantra Collage in Noida, edited photographs of stolen motorcycles, preparing original looking registration certificates, insurance and sale letters on a fake ID.

“Sachin was in contact with an auto-lifter named Mushtaq who lived in his building. Mushtaq told Sachin that men from his village steal vehicles from NCR and asked him if he needed a cheap motorcycle,” says Yadav.

Sachin, who was short of money, wanted to purchase a motorcycle and agreed. A TVS Apache was arranged for him for Rs 10,000. Sachin thought this to be an easy way to earn money and joined the group. He used to buy motorcycles for Rs 10,000 and then put them up for sale on Quikr. “The probe revealed that he managed to sell five motorcycles for Rs 40,000 each,” Yadav added.

A 27-year-old MBA arrested for running a gang of motorcycle thieves revealed that earning quick money was always the motive. K Sanatomba Singh, MBA (HR) from Coimbatore, told police that he took to auto-theft when he saw his friends leading an easy life through it – while he worked long shifts.

Similarly, a 73-year-old criminal lawyer was arrested for involvement in over 90 cases of vehicle theft in Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan. Jahangirpuri-resident Dhani Ram Mittal told police about his clever  modus operandi.

He would park his car near the targeted car. “He used master keys and if caught red-handed, he would apologise, citing old age,” said Mohammad Akhtar Rizvi, additional deputy commissioner of police (outer). He would point at his own parked car,  and claim making an honest mistake.

Arrested auto-lifters reveal they prefer to sell stolen vehicles in north-eastern states, Bihar, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. Delhi Police have  taken initiatives aimed at better coordination with police in other states.

District police forces have been assigned the task of coordinating with counterparts in the neighbouring states.

The special cell coordinates with Jammu and Kashmir Police, while the crime branch coordinates with police near the Nepal border and in north-eastern states. “We hope these initiatives bring down vehicle theft cases,”  says Yadav.

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