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Dangerous streets

A FEW days into September, and street crime in Karachi is already registering a disturbing escalation. At least eight people have lost their lives at the hands of armed muggers while going about their daily business, doing mundane things that those in more well-ordered cities can take for granted. One of them was having ice cream with his family while parked outside a commercial establishment; he was shot in the head in front of his wife and children. Late on Sunday, a young man in the Liaquatabad area was robbed of his phone while watching a cricket match on his cell phone; the criminals returned some hours later, according to police, and shot him. And he was the second victim of the day.

Another young man had been slain earlier when he tried to resist his phone being snatched from him.

The city police have come under relentless criticism for their failure to protect the residents. Karachi`s top cop has announced a new police arm, the Shaheen Force, to curb street crime. Equipped with radios and modern weapons, this unit would comprise around 200 personnel, including sharpshooters ostensibly to take out the muggers. Given that such units have been created in the past without much success, the Shaheen Force seems yet another attempt to assuage public anger and make the police appear to be doing something. Strategic planning is essential in preventing street crime, such as extra patrolling and CCTV cameras at `hotspots` where muggers tend to concentrate their activities. In any case, the `strategy` of `police encounters` to bump off suspected muggers, which was happening until some months ago, is brazenly illegal and, what`s more, does not work. While it may have a temporary deterrent effect, the long-term consequences of extrajudicial killings on the functioning of a police force are ruinous.

However, all said and done, street crimes are symptomatic of deepseated structural problems such as income disparity and lack of social justice. Policing alone is not sufficient to tackle street crime.