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Dhaka Tribune

Stolen phones fuel frustration amidst police inaction

  • Recovery rate dismal
  • Hurdles in filing cases hinder recovery
  • Police prioritize major crimes over phone theft
  • Recovery possible if case filed, phone active, official says
Update : 24 Apr 2024, 12:00 PM

Iha Abapti, who teaches at a private university, had her phone stolen from her car while it was stuck in traffic in front of Sony Cinema Hall in Mirpur at the end of January. Iha's father, Anwar Parvez, later filed a case with Mirpur model police station in this connection. Although almost three months have passed since then, the police have yet to recover the mobile phone. 

Anwar put the price of the mobile at around Tk50,000 but said that more important was the invaluable trove of personal and professional data it contained. He complained that the police were not giving any updates on their progress either.

Others like Iha highlighted the significance of mobile phones in modern life. Beyond mere communication devices, they serve as indispensable tools for carrying out many tasks, from managing businesses to storing vital information. Yet, despite their indispensability, the plight of phone theft victims often seems relegated to the sidelines by law enforcement, overshadowed by seemingly weightier matters.

Police data

Official figures revealed a staggering number of lost or stolen phones reported across the country in January alone. However, the rate of recovery pales in comparison, with only a fraction of the missing devices ever finding their way back to their rightful owners.

According to statistics from police headquarters, people across the country filed 29,553 general diaries and 18 cases in January over lost mobile phones. The number of lost mobile phones was 29,711.

Meanwhile, only 6,056 phones were recovered in the month: 855 phones were recovered in the Dhaka metropolitan area against 6,843 GDs and 17 cases; 324 in the Chittagong metropolitan area against 2,372 GDs; 58 in the Khulna metropolitan area against 316 GDs; 38 in the Rajshahi metropolitan area against 224 GDs; 71 in the Barisal metropolitan area against 169 GDs; 46 in the Sylhet metropolitan area against 618 GDs; seven in the Rangpur metropolitan area against 160 GDs; and 64 in the Gazipur metropolitan area against 1,075 GDs.

Meanwhile, the police managed to recover 900 mobile phones against 5,189 GDs in Dhaka Range; 979 against 4,416 GDs in Chittagong Range; 299 against 1,521 GDs in Khulna Range; 799 against 2,269 GDs in Rajshahi Range; 221 against 612 GDs in Barisal Range; 301 against 1,045 GDs in Sylhet Range; 288 against 1,355 GDs in Rangpur Range; 402 against 1,248 GDs in Mymensingh Range; and five against 162 GDs and one case in Railway Range.

Bureaucratic hurdles

Those in the sector say most of these cases involve mugging or snatching on the road. Many, daunted by the bureaucratic hurdles, opt against filing cases directly. And when the victims go to the police, the latter suggest filing complaints instead of cases. Besides, many people are reluctant to file a GD as well. When a case is filed, there is an obligation to recover the lost goods, press charges or a final report in court. But for GDs, as there is no such obligation, mobile phones often remain unrecovered.

The matter found its way to the forefront during a quarterly crime review meeting at the police headquarters, where Additional IGP (Crime and Operations) Md Atiqul Islam said if the number of lost mobile phones had been treated as a property-related crime, the number of property-related crimes would increase. Compared to the number of GDs filed over lost mobile phones, the number of cases registered in property-related crimes was much less, he said, before ordering necessary steps after analyzing the GDs or cases filed over lost mobile phones.

Sources at the police headquarters said that at the meeting officials had been instructed to give special importance to the recovery of mobile phones and identify places where stolen phones were sold.

Law enforcement officers said stolen mobile phones would be sold to shops in the past, and from there, they were resold to people. They said the police used to track the location and users of those phones using technology and recover them. However, snatchers now disassembled expensive phones before selling their parts, which was why the recovery rate was decreasing, they added.

An officer with the Dhaka Metropolitan Police said the police had recently arrested several members of a gang, including some Indians, who would sell locally stolen or snatched phones in neighbouring countries, and those stolen in neighbouring countries would be brought to Bangladesh and sold here. 

The stolen mobiles would be smuggled across the borders of several districts in the southwestern part of the country, the officer added. 

DMP Additional Deputy Police Commissioner Azharul Islam Mukul said the time required to recover a mobile phone was equivalent to that needed to crack a murder case. 

He explained that due to the intense pressure on law enforcement to resolve major crimes, cases involving lost phones often received lower priority. However, the officer emphasized that if a GD or case was filed and the phone remained active, there was a high likelihood of its recovery.

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