Dear Editor, 

Your piece, `Serious crimes down by 11% in 2017’ (SN 6 Jan 2018), raises many questions.  First, I am not too sure about the definition of “serious crimes” and what it includes.  The article seems to suggest that “serious crimes” include murders and “armed robbery involving the use of firearms” and perhaps robbery with other instruments.  These categories of crime declined by 18 percent, 8.8 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively. Assuming that “serious crimes” are grouped into these three categories only, then the simple arithmetic mean suggests that crime fell by 12 percent in 2017 compared to 2016.  Of course, this average assumes that all categories of “serious crimes” are weighted equally, which is unsatisfactory.  If break-and-enter and larceny, which decreased by 17.7 percent, are placed into the category of “serious crimes,” then such crimes fell even further in 2017 –  by 13.43 percent.  Which is it and how is the decline in “serious crimes” calculated?  Given the deep, structural troubles that plague us as a nation and country, perhaps we can do well with a psychological feel-good pronouncement at the beginning of the New Year.  To me, this is what the decline of “serious crimes” is calculated to deliver.

I do not wish to enter into the validity of these results, which assumes that all “serious crimes” in the country during 2017 are known and have been reported, recorded and processed accurately.  Instead, I would like to cast my eye on a different side of “serious crimes.”  Rather than gauging the extent of “serious crimes” by their numbers only, it would be more informative to shed some light on the ethnicity (perpetrators and victims) of these crimes and their regional distribution, the amounts of cash, jewellery and other valuables stolen, total damage to property, kinds injuries and the associated cost. The 11 percent decline is for the country as whole, but what about the areas of the country that are prone to crime? Have “serious crimes” in these areas declined by the same magnitude? A far more finer analysis of the data is needed, and I suggest the data should be made available for independent analysis.  The mere numbers of “serious crimes” miss an important part of the widespread crime that plagues the country and its people.  It seems likely that the fear of insecurity has not diminished, let alone by 11 percent.

From what I have been able to discern, the average age of criminals seems to be falling.  That is, criminals are younger today than a few years ago and are more violent and insensitive.  Criminals seem to be savvier and operate in groups varying from 3-5.  These criminals target and study their victims and plan a strategy for the execution of the criminal act. Part of the gang executes the crime while another member or two wait for them in a get-away vehicle, which may be stolen.  While the report speaks of the “worrisome” rise of carjacking, it does not say whether the stolen vehicles were used to execute criminal acts.  Crime is more taxing today in that it requires more brain power but it is also more profitable than when Dr. Somdat Mahabir and I wrote about crime in 2002.  Back then, the average loot per crime was about $330,000.  While the data is much more limited, the average loot is probably around $1,000,000.  That is, each single act of “serious” robbery hauls in about 10 percent more than the country’s per capita income for the whole 2016.  Crime continues to pay.  Another difference is that criminals are more organized, both vertically and horizontally, bold and daring.   Whether the risk of being caught and punished by the victims and/or the law has gone down or up is debatable. But a relatively low-risk, profitable business will flourish, and these crimes continues to flourish.

Today’s criminals are sophisticated and rely more on technology than those of a few years ago.  They can tap into a potential victim’s phone and listen to his conversation and track his movement.  On the positive side, the police can also tap into stolen phones to track criminals. I know of a case where this was actually done by the police.  Alas, the work was of no avail for the police refused to go after the criminals. Why? The excuse was that they did not have the manpower and vehicle, even though the victim offered to use his vehicle to take the police to where the criminals were hiding out.  This is what I call vertical integration of the business of crime.

I am afraid that merely tossing out bald, ethnic-free numbers about how much “serious crimes” have declined will not instill a sense of security into anyone. After all, “serious crimes” continues to be a major driver of Indian migration and a drag on economic growth and human development.

Yours faithfully,

Ramesh Gampat

Around the Web