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Metro picks its Hall of Shame

Some felt in their pockets for the wallet or cell phone while others exchanged curious glances when they came across a dozen mugshots on a white broadsheet pasted at Metro stations on Tuesday.

The photographs are of alleged pickpockets that Metro Railway has obtained from police stations and made a “rogues’ gallery” to alert commuters about thieves travelling with them or waiting on platforms.

The city’s transport lifeline has been saddled with more than 70 cases of thieves picking wallets, cell phones and other valuables from commuters on trains and crowded platforms over the past year. The number could be much more since many victims realise the theft after exiting the station and such cases most often go unreported or unrecorded.

The 12 on the “Hall of Shame” were repeat offenders, who had been caught several times, said an officer of the Metro rail police. The move to name and shame them started last Saturday.

“Each of them has been caught picking pockets of commuters more than once. They get bail and immediately return to the stations to carry on with their business,” he added.

“Incidents of theft have gone up over the past year and so we devised this plan to involve passengers in identifying pickpockets and alerting security personnel at stations,” said the officer.

A source said less than 50 cases were reported in 2012-13.

The photographs earlier adorned a notice board in the office of Metro rail police at Esplanade station. Photographs of suspects are usually displayed at police stations, seldom in public places.

On Tuesday, these were displayed near ticket counters, exit and entry gates, flap-gates and bag scanners at Rabindra Sarobar, Kalighat, Jatin Das Park, Rabindra Sadan, Maidan, Esplanade, Chandni Chowk, MG Road and Girish Park stations.

An official said other stations would soon display them.“The pictures were provided to us by police stations where the pickpockets were taken after being caught on Metro premises.”

Commuters milled in front of the boards and minutely checked the photographs. Some discreetly clicked the pictures on their mobile phones and were noticed walking down the platform zooming in each face.

“It’s a good move,” said Sandipan Banerjee, a private bank executive who commutes daily between Tollygunge and Central.

“My phone was picked in January. I had it inside my handbag before I boarded a crowded train at Kalighat. When I got down at Park Street and looked for the phone to make a call, I couldn’t find it… the zipper of the bag was open too,” said Tanima Mondal, an employee with a private firm on Royd Street.

Mondal said she reported the theft to the stationmaster who asked her to lodge a complaint with the police. “I did what I was told to do but never got back my phone.”

Metro sources said the crowded air-conditioned trains have become prime targets of pickpocket gangs. “The last complaint was recorded in the first week of April. A woman travelling between Kalighat and Sovabazar lost her smartphone in the afternoon,” a police officer said.

He said trains during peak hours were the most vulnerable. “A thief follows a pattern… he boards a train through one gate and slowly shifts to another while scanning the scene for a potential target. Once he pinpoints the potential victim, he waits for the train to pull into a station. He does his job in a split second and gets off the train before the doors close,” the officer said.

Queues before ticket counters and platform entry-exit gates are other target areas.