Is Chennai safe? That might be the question on the minds of its residents after the past few months have seen a spate of chain snatchings, a few daylight murders and at least two robberies at banks. In relative terms, Chennai has ranked quite low in terms of crimes, according to the National Crime Records Bureau data. While the city has been leading the charts for having the most crimes registered under Special & Local Laws, reporting of serious crimes has been lower in the city compared to figures in other Indian metros. Further, it is worth noting that an increase in crimes according to NCRB may not indicate an increase in incidence, but rather an increase in reporting of crimes.
Nonetheless, there may well be a perception that the city is less safe than it used to be. Following reports of 14 chain-snatching incidents in the matter of a few hours in the heart of the city, the police launched a crackdown, raiding hotels and lodges and detaining scores of history-sheeters. However, the police appear to have made little headway in cracking the robberies.
This is not to say that the city police are ineffective—they have demonstrated the ability to move swiftly when so inclined—but to say that a round up of ‘villains’ may not be the only or most effective way forward. Further, there are limits on how much police can and should be deployed on the streets. However, what police can do is to work in coordination with civic bodies to tackle factors that make spots vulnerable to crime.
This begins with ensuring that sufficient and functional street lighting is available in every part of the city. More friendly engagement with citizens and taking complaints of muggings or break-ins seriously even if no loss of property or life is reported will ensure citizens feel safe. Further, given the spike in juvenile crime and to stop first-time offenders, police need to deepen their engagement with at-risk youths. Some of these efforts have already been undertaken by police, but more is needed and in a planned fashion, if the citizenry is to feel secure.