On Car Thefts

Increasing incidents demand a thorough investigation

A friend had his car stolen from his house a few days ago. The manner it was done needs to be thought about: there seems to be a new level of sophistication in the way it was planned and executed.
My friend woke up in the morning to find his car gone from the porch of his house. It was between midnight and morning that the car was stolen. The thieves had cut the lock on the gate and they had taken the car out. They took the lock that they cut with them so my friend does not really know how the lock was cut. But the whole process could not have been too noisy as nobody in the household, and there were quite a few people in the house, heard anything.
My friend called the police. What he heard from them was enlightening. They said a lot of cars had been similarly stolen in the last few weeks and months, and from the areas of Cantonment and Defence in Lahore. Most of the cars stolen had been Toyota Corolla GLI model. And new. And for most of them the thieves had come to the house, cut the lock on the gate but quietly enough so as not to wake up the household, and taken the car.
Interestingly, my friend also found out some other things from the police, his insurance company representative, and some of his acquaintances who have also been robbed over the last few weeks. The thieves do a good job of finding out where the cars are, they know that these households do not have guards and lock their gates at night, and they know around what time do these households go to sleep. They probably have very advanced cutters that are noiseless as they have been known to have cut through all sorts of locks. I say probably because the thieves are clever enough and careful enough to take the cut locks with them so the police can only guess what these thieves do. The police also think that the thieves bring smartly dressed men and women with them and these are the people who drive away the stolen cars. This explains, for the police, why these people are not stopped at police ‘nakas’. It seems that the thieves break the small window of a back door, and then push the car out of the driveway before they start the engine.
The thieves are using the profiling policy of the police against them. Everyone knows the police do not stop the bigger cars, cars driven by smartly dressed men and women, the crowd that speaks English, at the ‘nakas’ or do not stop them beyond the point of hearing their accent and/or checking out their clothes. Whereas people on motorcycles and smaller cars, in shalwar kameezes and talking local languages are fair game. So getting smartly dressed people to drive away the stolen vehicles is a successful ploy. The police cannot really start checking more rigorously as the elite in bigger cars are not going to like that a whole lot.
My friend called up his insurance company to let them know. The concerned agent said they had been getting quite a few calls for claims over the last few months, especially from the more affluent areas of Lahore. It is a fairly long process to get claims from insurance companies and the police have to give a final report before companies can process claims. The report and then the company processing takes time. So the people who have even their insured cars stolen have to wait weeks before they get compensation and can replace cars. The cost of replacement has to be paid as well in the form of paying for the difference between car prices since the last car was bought, and the cost of registration and other formalities. All this is of course not covered by any insurance. And due to this spate of thefts car insurance will surely go up as well: another cost that victims, and possibly others, have to bear.
There are other issues here too. Why are so many of the stolen cars Toyota Corollas? Are they too easy to steal? If they are, should the company not have a look at the issue and give a public response? Or is there something else happening? Are some unscrupulous people working in Toyota distributions doing something they should not be? Like making copies of keys of cars they are selling? The police as well as the Competition Commission of Pakistan should look into this aspect: consumers might be victims of something that the company or its distributors should not be doing.
Some people have also suggested that there have been too many cars stolen in too short a period and the police knows more than they are letting on but they have not been able to do anything about this gang. Is the police trying its best? Or are there connections between the police or people in the police and the gang? This is something that can only come out when police higher-ups look into the issue in detail.
The only thing that seems to work is a guard at home. The gang seems to select houses that have no guards and only requires locks to be cut. But this could just be for the moment. If too many houses get guards, the gangs might come prepared too. And that would be a much worse outcome for everyone as the chances of people getting hurt would also go up. But for individuals, getting a guard seems to be the only solution to the issue for now. Of course, a much better overall solution would be for the police to catch the gang, but given recent police performance in high-profile kidnappings for ransom and so on, the record does not really inspire confidence.
Where do all these cars go? Do they sell up country in other provinces and tribal areas? How are they moved across the country? And do they go in one piece or many? Or are they just being stripped in a regular garage? It would be important to look at these aspects too as it might be possible to look at this demand for cheap cars to figure out where they go and maybe it is possible to control this demand too so that the incentive to rob cars goes down.
Cars are an expensive item for most households, especially in the middleclass and/or professional class. And they are costly to replace even if insured. This is apart from the anger at having one’s private space invaded and sense of security violated. Our police is not the most sophisticated. So when thieves get sophisticated, it is bad karma for citizens. Let us see how this investigation progresses.

From Pakistan Today, Pakistan, Tuesday 14th February 2012.

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