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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

MEMOIRS: Memories of Madras - A cop and his cases!

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PRINCE FREDERICK / The Hindu / July 5, 2011.

S. Sripall with policeman Shanmukgham who set a record in 1987 by floating on water for over 51 hours
S. Sripall with policeman Shanmukgham who set a record in 1987 by floating on water for over 51 hours.

Former Director-General of Police, S. Sripall reminisces about the simpler times when petty thieves and burglars were the biggest enemies of the law
Successful police investigation rests on a combination of clever hunches and hard facts. After considerable fact-finding, a surmise often turns the last key in unlocking a mystery. The opposite is true as well – a series of sharp guesses can take an investigation forward. In such instances, it takes expertise and research to close out the case.
This interplay was remarkable in a case of robbery in a locality near St. Thomas Mount. In this instance, the burglar had brutally raped the lady of the house, who was alone. Distraught and angry, she was determined to bring the criminal to book. She did not want her family to know what had been done to her, but she took the police into confidence. Faeces on the floor were tell-tale sign that the robber belonged to a particular tribe. Burglars from this group followed the odd practice of relieving themselves after committing a crime. On a hunch, outlaws from the group active in another district were brought in for inquiry. The woman identified one of them: he owned up to the crime.
An understanding of behavioural psychology helped deter crime. It is common knowledge that criminals strike mostly between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., the time separating the end of the last cinema show and the movement of factory workers on morning shift. During the early 1980s, at my behest, inspectors would regularly go to select places and conduct mock ‘checks' around this critical hour. For example, an inspector and a retinue of constables would park themselves near the Anna Salai Roundtana and question passers-by. The inspector would also pretend to be calling certain police stations on a dummy phone. A few among the questioned – policemen under disguise – would be “taken into custody”. Invariably, such police checks are a topic of discussion at petty shops and therefore serve as a deterrent for potential thieves.
The Madras police have often had to use their imagination to execute their job excellently. In the 1980s, defecation on the sands of Marina was rampant. The police had to produce evidence of this despicable practice. Photos of the shoreline littered with human waste would not do. We had to get the locals in the act. But when we trained our cameras on them, they fled. We finally got some of our constables to line up on the Marina and pose for a photo!

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