Ms Duaa Ayaz is a graduate of Economics and Social Sciences. She is currently working as a freelance writer on Fiverr. Her sphere of interest includes international relations, geopolitics, foreign policy, security, and socio-economic issues of Pakistan and the world.
A Bleak Picture
The Karachi police reported 60,580 incidents of street crime including 20,406 episodes of mobile snatching in the first 9 months of 2022 alone. Additionally, the Lahore Police data shows a 282% increase in gang robberies. With a crime index of 42.51, Pakistan’s jeopardized internal security is not only deleterious to the common man but the business communities too.
While crime statistics may fluctuate with time, the underlying cause of the conundrum persists. It is therefore pertinent to analyse the fundamental causes of escalating street crime through the lens of various criminological perspectives while also exploring the problems of law enforcement agencies so as to formulate viable solutions and policy options to overhaul the damaged criminal justice system of Pakistan.
Street crime is defined as criminal behaviour that occurs in public spaces and is often motivated by financial gains. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), street crime encompasses a wide range of criminal activities including violent crimes such as homicide, assault, robbery, harassment, and arson. It also includes property crimes such as larceny, arson, breaking and entering, burglary, and motor vehicle theft.
In Pakistan, street crime affects urban and rural areas alike; however, lately, street crimes have become particularly prevalent in large urban cities such as Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Street crime is a symptom of a deeper malaise in our society, stemming from issues of inequality, poverty, and unemployment.
Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) (2022) and Asian Development Bank(ADB) report estimates that 21.9% of Pakistan’s population lives below the national poverty line. Although a broad range of intrinsic and extrinsic factors are responsible for the recent spike in street crime, however, extrinsic factors play a major role in case of Pakistan.
Rational Choice Theory
The rational choice theory is a viewpoint of the right realist school that attempts to explain crime by virtue of the hedonistic nature of man, that is, individuals engage in criminal behaviour out of free will because they believe it will lead to personal gain, and they weigh the potential risks and rewards.
In Pakistan, street crime is usually committed by individuals because they believe the potential rewards outweigh the risks as the criminals won’t be held accountable due to the negligence of law enforcement agencies. The lack of FIRs lodged against the perpetrators has also aided criminals. Moreover, street crime has become a rather profitable business in Pakistan due to the low rate of conviction.
Robert K Merton’s strain theory is a social structure theory that states that crime is a result of the strain or stress caused by the gap between culturally defined goals and the means to achieve them. In Pakistan, the gap between the cultural emphasis on success and the limited opportunities for social mobility may lead to strain and frustration which can manifest in criminal behaviour.
Economic crises and inflation have resulted in rising poverty in Pakistan. As a result, people resort to the path of street crime as a means to earn a living. Undoubtedly, poverty and inflation have exacerbated street crimes in Pakistan. This can be substantiated by the UNODC report ‘Impact of Economic Crises on Crime’ which states that “during periods of economic stress, the incidence of robbery may double, and homicide and motor vehicle theft also increase“.
Anomie and Deviance Theory
Anomie (normlessness) is a sociological theory propounded by Emilè Durkheim. However, Robert K Merton used the anomie theory to explain how crime and deviance arise from a lack of social regulation or norms thereby leaving individuals to pursue their self-interest without any guidance or constraints. Generally, societal changes, such as rapid industrialization and urbanization play a crucial role in the creation of anomie. However, in Pakistan, prolonged political instability and corruption have resulted in lawlessness and normlessness in society.
With an increase in rural-urban migration in recent years, the traditional norms and values have become blurred creating a sense of alienation, which culminates in criminality. For instance, migrant young adults living in high levels of poverty, unemployment, and social dislocation may experience anomie, compelling them to commit street crimes. This can be illustrated by a spike in juvenile street crimes and delinquent teenagers. Retired SSP Punjab Police Rana Shahid noted that young boys think street crime is the easy way out of poverty.
Delinquent Subculture Theory
Albert Cohen’s subculture theory states that crime is a result of the values and norms of a subculture that deviate from those of mainstream society. In Pakistan, street crimes may be committed by individuals who are part of subcultures that have a different set of values and norms than mainstream society such as street gangs or organized criminal groups. They may engage in street crime as a means of gaining status and respect within their subculture. A recent influx of refugees and immigrants in the urban areas of Pakistan has also germinated street gangs and dacoits.
Social Disorganization theory
Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay’s social disorganization theory emphasizes the role of community factors in crime. In Pakistan, street crimes may be more prevalent in areas with high levels of social disorganization such as neighbourhoods with deep-seated poverty and low socio-economic status of the population in addition to ethnic heterogeneity and greater population density. The lack of social cohesion and informal social control mechanisms in the above areas can make it easier for street crimes to occur.
A sub-theory of the social control theory, Travis Hirschi’s bond theory analyses criminal behaviour as a result of an individual’s severed bonds with society. In a highly stratified society like Pakistan, scarce avenues of socialisation due to income inequality and no access to education result in detachment from society or any form of social control, resulting in criminality.
A Lacking Criminal Justice System
Law enforcement agencies are the pillars of society that enforce social control so as to regulate and maintain social order. However, unfortunately, law enforcement agencies have become mediocre in Pakistan and are ineffective in controlling street crime. Additionally, a snail-paced criminal justice system replete with corruption and political interference also impedes the process of conviction of criminals
Pendency of Criminal Cases
Pakistan’s criminal justice system is besieged with the challenge of huge pendency of criminal cases and inordinate delay in their disposal. Delayed criminal investigation and inadequate prosecution are primary factors responsible for the low rate of conviction. The dent in the criminal justice system acts as a shield to the perpetrators who engage in street crime audaciously.
Corruption within law enforcement agencies is a major problem in Pakistan. This can include bribery, extortion, and abuse of power, which can make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to effectively control street crime.
Lack of Resources and Training
Law enforcement agencies in Pakistan often lack the necessary resources such as funding, equipment, and personnel to effectively combat street crime. This can make it difficult for them to effectively patrol high-crime areas and respond to criminal incidents. Many law enforcement officers in Pakistan lack proper training in tackling street crime. This can lead to a lack of knowledge and expertise, which can make it difficult for law enforcement agencies to effectively combat street crime.
Law enforcement agencies in Pakistan often lack collaboration and coordination between different agencies and departments. This can make it difficult for them to share information and resources, impeding their ability to control street crime. Law enforcement agencies also often have poor relationships with the communities they serve which can make it difficult for them to gain the trust and cooperation of community members.
Law enforcement agencies in Pakistan are often subject to political interference, which can make it difficult for them to carry out their duties independently. This can include pressure to overlook or downplay certain crimes, or to prioritize certain cases over others.
The legal system in Pakistan is often not equipped to deal with street crimes, the laws are not strict enough to deter criminals and the punishments are not severe enough to act as a deterrent. It’s important for law enforcement agencies to address these issues in order to improve their effectiveness in controlling street crime.
Solutions to Street Crimes in Pakistan
Street crime requires a multifaceted approach that addresses the underlying social and economic conditions that contribute to the problem. It isn’t merely a law enforcement problem, it is a social problem that requires a community-wide response.
Addressing the Root Causes
To effectively control street crimes in Pakistan, it is important to address the root causes such as poverty, unemployment, lack of education, and social inequality. This can be done through targeted social and economic policies like poverty reduction programs, job creation initiatives, and programs to improve access to education and training and provide social safety nets for the most vulnerable.
Furthermore, through social programs like Ehsaas and BISP, financial assistance and subsidies can be provided to poor and low-income families to improve their living conditions and reduce the likelihood of them being involved in street crimes.
Improving Law Enforcement Agencies
Street crimes in Pakistan are often exacerbated by a lack of effective law enforcement. Hence, it is essential to enhance the capacity and effectiveness of law enforcement agencies. This can be done by providing training, resources, and equipment to law enforcement agencies, as well as implementing measures to combat corruption within these agencies.
Public-private partnerships in policing are a collaboration between private security companies and police. Such partnerships facilitate policing as the private security companies would help bridge the gap between the act of crime and the action taken by police agencies.
These collaborations with the private sector and non-governmental organizations can also help law enforcement agencies with budget deficits by amassing funds for the policing sector. Moreover, these organizations can assist in developing and implementing crime-prevention strategies. NGOs can also provide support such as counseling and financial assistance to the victims of street crime.
Community policing is a strategy cum philosophy that involves the active participation of community members in preventing and combating crime. Community policing can be done by forming neighbourhood watch groups, organizing community meetings, and involving community members in the design and implementation of crime-prevention strategies.
In the past, various attempts have been made in Pakistan to implement community policing. For instance, Islamabad Capital Police organised a system of ‘police volunteers’ to ensure effective community policing in controlling street crime.
Surveillance and Technology
Incorporating modern technology such as surveillance cameras is pivotal to ensuring proactive policing in curbing street crimes. Police can use cameras to monitor high-crime areas and quickly respond to crimes in progress. The use of CCTV cameras, license plate recognition cameras, and facial recognition technology can be used to identify suspects, track their movements, and solve crimes.
Additionally, technology such as GPS tracking can be used to monitor the movements of police patrols and ensure that they are properly covering high-crime areas. The recent spike in street crime, including the murder of a highly educated HR manager during a robbery in Gulistan-e-Johar, prompted the implementation of the ‘Sindh Security of Vulnerable’ act by virtue of which, the Karachi police sent notices to shop owners to install CCTV cameras.
The right realist school emphasizes zero-tolerance policing to control crimes. Moreover, Italian criminologist Cesare Beccaria, an advocate of punitive justice, argued that the punishment of crimes must be proportionate to the crimes committed so as to deter criminals from committing them. In Pakistan, the menace of street crimes can be largely controlled by increasing penalties for street crimes as they can act as a deterrent to potential offenders.
Street crime is often committed by individuals with a history of criminal behaviour. To control street crime, it is essential to provide rehabilitation programs that address the underlying issues that lead to criminal behaviour. A part of restorative justice advocated by the left realist school, rehabilitation programs in Pakistan could help restore offenders as assets to society thus mitigating the problem of street crime by repeated offenders.
Street crime is not just a problem of the streets, it is a problem of the entire society. It is a blight that eats away at the fabric of our society. Street crime not only affects the safety and security of citizens but also has a negative impact on the economy, as it can deter investment and tourism. Therefore, it is essential to combat street crime in Pakistan through a multipronged approach that addresses both the underlying causes of street crime and the problems of the criminal justice system.
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