At a time when the rest of the country is reeling under a crime wave, official statistics show that robberies are down in Kathmandu Valley. There has been a spate of serious armed robberies in the past few months, but the number of break-ins and burglaries appears to be down.
It could be that people are more scared than before to report crime to police, or it could really mean that there is a drop in crime. At the Sorakhutte Police Station near Thamel, the officer on duty looks bored. He says murders, robberies and violent gang wars that his beat used to be notorious for are now all gone. "Now we deal with ordinary cases like minor thefts, family quarrels and juvenile delinquents. The place has become quite safe and there are no reports of big crimes," he tells us.
In the lobby, a middle-aged woman coaxes a policeman to release her teenage son and his friends who were arrested for eve teasing in Thamel. Nearby, two men in their 30s are persuading another officer to arrest three young hooligans who beat up their friend. Petty crimes are routine, and the police are happy nothing serious has been reported for weeks.
The police station in Maharajgunj, responsible for policing areas from Gongabu Bus Park to Gopi Krishna Hall area near Chabahil, have experienced a similar lull. "We deal mostly with domestic violence and smalltime drug addicts," says a constable who recalls a time when rival gang members would slaughter each other in broad daylight at Chakrapath.
According to police data from July 2003-March 2004, crime rates have dropped with only 25 robberies and 30 murders reported. Police admit the public doesn't want to believe that crime rates have fallen, but say it really has. "People think we are busy controlling riots and no one is nabbing criminals, but it is not true," says a junior police officer at the Maharajganj Chakrapath station.
Media speculation that crime is increasing due to the influx of migrants from Maoist-affected districts is also dismissed. DSP Ganesh KC at Hanuman Dhoka police station stands by the official data, "Our reports clearly prove that the Valley has not seen a rise in serious crime for many years."
Analysts say serious crime may have gone down as a result of police being withdrawn from most rural areas and moved to the cities. For the first time in memory, most stations have surplus manpower.
The force has swelled to 45,000 and each major station has more than 95 personnel for investigation, inspection and monitoring. The absence of parliament also means that there isn't as much overt politicisation of the force so they don't have pressure to go easy on criminals with political patronage. "We can do our work more independently without worrying about who we are arresting," says one police officer who, like the others interviewed for this story, wanted to remain unnamed.
The rise in the number of security companies is another reason for the drop in crime rate and even private houses now have their own security (see box). The police also introduced a public-police partnership program in over 40 places around the Valley to reduce crime. Civilians work as informers and the guilty are nabbed easily. l (Naresh Newar)
The public perception is that since the security forces are busy fighting the Maoists, khaobadis and armed robbers are running loose.
This has meant a boom in business for private security agencies who can't cope with the demand from banks, businesses, factories and now even private houses. "Companies like ours relieve the burden of the police to a great extent," says Mohan Sitaula, director of Kantipur Security Guard, who began six years ago with just five guards. Now Kantipur has over 500 guards working in over 160 postings around the country.
Manohar Koirala, manager of Group 4, the country's largest private security company, says it has brought international security standards to Nepal. "The level of public safety has grown due to security companies," says Koirala. Started in 1996 with 160 guards, Group 4 has grown into a 4,500 strong army in its own right. The company also trains people on safety measures and installs electronic security systems for 300 companies all over Nepal. But competition is stiff and prices are competitive.