They don't live in inconspicuous corners of the city. They are never really on the run. They don't have any fear of the law. For chain-snatchers, the city and its outskirts are their oyster. They move around freely and live as a happy and healthy community in different pockets, known as forbidden places for the cops.
From Ambivali, Mumbra, Mira Road to Bhiwandi, Mumbai and its suburbs have Irani colonies where chain-snatchers rule the roost. In each of these areas, not far from the respective railway stations, over 400 of them operate with their families and live in small houses in a closed group.
Additional commissioner of police of Kalyan region, Sharad Shelar, says, "These colonies have been a challenge for the cops to access, especially because of the women who come in the forefront and deny the cops to step into the area."
Officials said the criminals have a standard mode of functioning. They get out in the morning and spread out in different directions in pairs.
"Before setting off, the lawbreakers steal bikes, manage to replace the number plate, create bogus RTO documents and reach the targets," said Balsingh Rajput, DCP of Zone 11.
Nearly 90 per cent of those arrested for chain-snatching hail from these colonies. "But they are a close-knit community. The minute our constables visit the places, the women fortify area. They lock up homes and attack the cops with stones and sticks," said Shelar.
Officials said they have managed to make a few arrests, but since the criminals are always on the move, it is difficult rein them in. "It is also hard to collect evidence in such incidents though we have tried to enter these areas to inspect their wealth and properties," said Rajput.
The looters carry out a recce of a locality over a few days before striking there. "Mostly, they target western suburbs such as Borivali, Malad, Andheri, and Chembur, Matunga and Sion on the central side. Their favourite timings are before 9am, around noon or after 3 pm," said an official.
According to the police, the groups discuss and ensure that each pair keeps a target of robbing at least five to six chains a day. They even discuss profiles of people in a particular area to zero in on the target.
"Although temples, parks and desolate residential areas have always been their favourite targets, nowadays, they have even started striking spots outside malls and railway stations," said an officer.
As the city sees a rise in chain-snatching incidents, cops says they are collecting more evidence in terms of CCTV footage, interrogation of history-sheeters and increased crackdown on these colonies.
Shelar added, "We are doing our best to ensure these people are booked. However, it is hard to deal with the women in these areas who turn violent when we enter the ghettos."