Tracking the culprit, not the IMEI: How Bengaluru police solve phone theft cases

Less than a month after the theft, local police arrested two people and recovered the stolen phone. The arrested men were part of a gang involved in street robberies, police found.

The rise in phone theft incidents in the city has set off alarm bells for the Bengaluru Police, who have started to take what was once considered a petty crime seriously.

The city’s police, however, are focusing on catching culprits rather than blocking the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) of stolen phones, a standard procedure now followed by Delhi police.

Police data reveals an average of 36 incidents of phone theft per month were reported in Bangalore between July and August, a jump of more than 200% from an average of 11 cases per month between January and June .

Bengaluru Police say the increase in cases is due to phone theft incidents no longer being categorized as ‘e-lost’, which is not reflected in the city’s criminal records , but recorded as a serious crime of theft under Section 392 of the Indian Penal Code.

No magic bullet: why IMEI blocking won’t help

Unlike their Delhi counterparts, the Bengaluru Police have backed away from introducing an automated system to render stolen or lost mobile phones unusable by blocking their IMEI.

The Delhi Police, with the help of the Department of Telecommunications, introduced the IMEI blocking system two months ago to gradually reduce the demand for stolen phones and deter thieves.

Incidentally, the Bengaluru Police has also implemented a similar mechanism, developed with the help of the Center for Telematics Development, but it has yet to be put to use.

“We are not introducing the IMEI blocking system in Bangalore. We will study the effectiveness of the system in Delhi and decide. One of the problems is that stolen phones are not always reused. sold separately,” Bengaluru Commissioner of Police CH Prathap Reddy said, adding that the central government also plans to introduce the system in all states.

Senior police officers said they fear the IMEI blocking system, instead of deterring phone thieves, is inducing a culture of complacency, with cases of phone theft being ignored as a serious crime by the police. police.

“Often, high-end phones are not ripped off for resale but to harvest their parts. An iPhone camera and touchscreen will fetch big bucks on the used market. Blocking the IMEI might help reduce crime to some extent but will not be very effective overall,” a senior Bengaluru police officer said.

According to senior police officers, a centralized system where police receive alerts if a stolen phone is used anywhere in the country would work better for recovering phones and preventing theft than an IMEI blocking system.

From the snatch to recovery: restoring the confidence of citizens

Police sources said The Indian Express that reports of around 4,000 lost, stolen or torn phones were received at police stations in Bangalore in 2021, with the majority of cases recorded in the ‘e-lost’ category.

“After the new police commissioner took office in May, an internal order was issued in June to register all cases of phone removal as theft. Since July, we have been reopening old files registered under the e-lost category and classifying them in the event of a robbery if the complaint mentions a purse robbery. The number of phone kidnapping cases remains the same in the city but the spike is due to the new classification,” a police officer said.

A senior police officer said kidnapping phones was classified as a serious offense as it tends to instill fear among people about their safety on the streets.

“Recovering a victim’s phone must remain a key police objective. This would instill confidence in citizens that they are safe on the streets. Instead of blocking a stolen phone, we would prefer a pan-India system where IMEI numbers of all stolen phones are collected and alerts issued when the phone is activated. This would reduce recovery efforts,” the officer said.

Phone theft has replaced chain theft as one of the top street crimes in Bangalore.

In July, the Central Crime Branch unit of the Bengaluru Police announced the seizure of 512 phones worth Rs 78.84 lakh following the arrest of a gang of robbers.

“The gang had seven to eight members and was involved in phone thefts in Bangalore. The phones were sold for as little as Rs 2,000 to agents, who would resell the devices later in Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad,” a CCB police officer said after the repossession was announced.

In September, the Bengaluru Police West Division announced the recovery of 928 phones following a month-long operation that led to the arrest of 108 people.

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