Bengaluru’s big city ambitions got a hyper-boost in 2007, when the BBMP jurisdictional area shot up to a whopping 741 sqkm. But that big size triggered an infrastructure problem so huge that the overstretched civic agency struggled. So did the men in khaki, as police zones shot up in tandem.
Faced with mounting crimes on the city’s periphery, the understaffed, overburdened and ill-equipped police force didn’t know what hit them. Nine years later, robberies, thefts, property offences and other crimes continue to soar. Concerns of public safety and security remain as potent as ever.
Here’s the problem, as articulated by the city police officials themselves: Many areas on the outskirts, the East and Southeast Bengaluru in particular, share their borders with Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh. Inter-state criminals and habitual offenders commit crimes and easily sneak into the neighbouring states.
Fleeing with loot
Over the years, the criminals have perfected a system where stolen goods are quickly transferred across the border to receivers. Poor patrolling and inspections at checkposts have aided these quick getaways, as a senior police official explains.
The city’s expansion had thinned out the already inadequate law and order machinery. Jurisdictional areas of every police station on the outskirts rose beyond manageable limits. Men and vehicles were just not enough. The proximity to the problematic borders only worsened the scene.
So, how do the police manage now? Additional Commissioner of Police (East), P Harishekaran explains: “We are strengthening policing on the outskirts, despite inadequate staff strength. We are regularly in touch with our counterparts in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh to nab the inter-state criminals.”
If more police stations are not immediately possible, police outposts could be an alternative. “It is high time we do this at many places in the East and Southeast areas. We need to assign some areas for these outposts to patrol,” says Harishekaran.
Citizens’ safety remains a primary concern in many areas on Devanahalli Road compared to Mysuru Road, Hosur Road and Tumakuru Road. “There are many remote areas here. It is very easy for the criminals to commit crimes and escape in no time,” the officer adds.
To address this issue, both on the outskirts and within the city, the police have found a way out: Partnership with citizens themselves. Collaborating with non-government organisation, Janaagraha, the police launched a unique Community Policing project three years ago in seven police stations. This has been scaled up to 18 stations across the city.
Area Suraksha Mitras
Citizen volunteers are enlisted as Area Suraksha Mitras (ASMs) to help the police in collecting intelligence inputs on criminal activities. Besides, they alert the beat constables about suspicious movements and create awareness among residents on crimes.
Well-connected volunteers with a key understanding of the neighbourhood are chosen as ASMs. They work with the police on the basis of beats. Explains the campaign manager, Valli Narasimha, “If a police station has 10 beats, every beat should ideally have four to six ASMs. HSR Layout, for instance, has six beats and 36 ASMs.”
Community policing, as statistics indicate, has helped build a trust between the police and citizens, notes Valli. Improved understanding of crimes and reporting has improved registration of FIRs. There is a perceptible reduction in cases of chain-snatching and robberies in areas covered by a few select stations.
Besides, the campaign has shed light on a few hitherto unnoticed crime trends. For instance, theft of electronic goods, ATM and financial frauds are high in Bommanahalli, Madiwala and HSR Layout, all areas close to IT firms.
A few pockets on the city outskirts, especially in areas abutting the Outer Ring Road, a new problem has cropped up in recent years: Drug-peddling, phishing and other crimes perpetuated mostly by over-staying African nationals.
The police are worried that addressing this issue linked to foreigners requires multiple agencies. They are often caught in tight situations since cases of passport and visa rule violations are rampant.
Prostitution is another rising crime on the outskirts. Raids have unveiled several houses used for hi-profile prostitution and drug peddling. These properties are let out on high rentals to agents. The Central Crime Branch (CCB) of the city police has now been asked to keep a strict watch.
The city’s unbridled growth has merged boundaries between rural and urban in many areas. As Additional Commissioner of Police (West) K S R Charan Reddy puts it, “In West and North Bengaluru, it is really difficult to make out where the city ends and Ramanagaram and Bengaluru Rural districts begin.”
The problems of the city police and those of the two districts are mostly similar. There is no choice but to have a robust information-sharing mechanism across the jurisdictional boundaries. Reddy says the city and district police personnel are in constant touch.