There are no funny antics or naked limbs in this video but it became a hit on YouTube the minute it was uploaded.
WE all seem to know someone or someone who knows someone who has been a victim of a smash-and-snatch theft. Last week, Kuala Lumpur chief police officer Deputy Comm Datuk Zulkifli Abdullah was reported as saying such cases were on the decline but the way people are talking, it seems this “new variation” of street crime is rampant.
In this evolved form of the crime, instead of preying on pedestrians, the snatch thieves “attack” lone motorists when they are waiting for the traffic lights to change at junctions or when they are stuck in peak hour traffic.
On their motorcycles, usually with a partner, the culprits would tail the driver they are targeting and wait for the opportune time to smash the car window and grab the victim's valuables.
Too many, especially women, have fallen victims to these unscrupulous criminals. Unfortunately, these crimes are difficult to solve as they are committed in the blink of an eye.
However, it might just change if a new phenomenon catches on video evidence from in-car video surveillance camera. Such video evidence was uploaded on YouTube early this month, creating an online sensation.
Shot from a car that was behind the victim's car, the 23-second video clip captured the street crime as it unfolded in Section 16, Petaling Jaya.
The footage shows two men on a motorcycle approaching the car at a traffic light junction. Within seconds, the pillion rider had smashed the passenger window, grabbed the driver's bag and sped off.
The video recorded 89,000 hits a week after it went online. As of yesterday, over 335,000 people have viewed it. Even the owner of the footage, security consultant Benjamin Seow, is amazed at how his video has caught on.
“The main reason I uploaded the video on YouTube was to get in touch with the victim. I feel a bit guilty for not doing more to help her on that day and I thought that at the very least, I should pass her the video for use as evidence in her case,” says Seow who is known as Bigggmouth online.
As he explains, he had wanted to stop and help the victim, but she drove off before he could do anything. “I wound my car window down and gestured to her to stop by the road side but she was frozen in shock. As soon as she recovered, she drove away.
“I was a bit disappointed but I guess she must have been so traumatised that the sight of me this strange man excitedly flailing his arms at her frightened her more,” he says.
He admits that he has received some flak from Netizens who criticised him for not helping her when it happened. There were others who accused him of using her misfortune to get cheap publicity.
However, he is not letting the nasty comments bother him as through YouTube he has managed to connect with the victim and agreed to be a witness in the police investigation of her case.
The victim, 26-year-old occasions architect Chen Qian, admits that she was so distressed after the incident that all she wanted to do was to get to the police station straightaway.
“I was on my way to church in that area and had left my handbag on the front passenger's seat. When the thieves smashed my window, I honestly thought someone was going to hurt or kill me. I screamed my lungs out and tried honking but the (traffic) light had changed so I thought it was best to get out of the way,” she recalls. And when she saw the thieves driving straight on, she knew she would not be able to catch up with them.
“I was so far behind the traffic. In any case, I wouldn't know what to do even if I had. I was still in shock so I picked up my friend from Damansara and made a report at the SS2 police station immediately.
“On hindsight, I wish I had stayed where I was because I could have asked if any of the other drivers had managed to catch the motorcycle's number plate,” she says. Seow believes that snatch thieves choose their crime sites carefully to prevent other motorists from helping the victims.
“Usually they will pick busy roads to make it difficult for other motorists to stop them. I would not have thought twice about ramming my car into them on that day but there was no way I could move my car, much less catch up to them,” he says.
After witnessing the crime for himself, Seow says he can now understand the shock and trauma that victims go through in such incidents. “Everything happened so fast that I too needed time to recover, and I was just a witness. Many times people blame the victim for not reacting fast enough.”
He feels it is also why the video had a lot of hits: “People are simply shocked at how fast the crime was carried out only a few seconds.” Seow says he installed his in-car CCTV equipment about a year ago but this was the first time that he had caught such a crime on camera.
“I got interested in the in-car video system when I saw how many cars in Japan and Korea have these cameras. In fact, over there the in-car cameras are now provided when you buy a new car.
“I realised that it made a lot of sense to have such an equipment. When you get involved in an accident or when something happens to your wife or children in the car or when they get out of the car, you have evidence.”
But he stresses that the in-car camera cannot be a deterrent for unwanted incidents. “In Japan and Korea, for example, they are used to settle disputes in accidents,” he says. Still, Seow encourages drivers to instal a surveillance camera in their car. “If more people have it, they can help prevent street crime.”
He says the surveillance cameras are available in any electrical shop and even on the Net. “You can search online where many cameras from China and Taiwan are available. Once you have bought one, you can get it installed at any car accessory shop. It is very simple to mount.” The footage initially gave Chen hope of seeing her case resolved.
“When I saw the video, my first thought was, that's my car!' I was actually quite traumatised when the robbery happened, and watching it again made me relive the experience.
“But after the initial shock, I was hopeful that perhaps the video managed to capture the thieves' number plate, and that I should try to get in touch with the videographer' so that I can hand the information over to the police,” she shares.
She left a message for Seow, and their correspondence soon started. Last Monday, they went to make a police report at the Sea Park (SS2) p olice station. There, they were told that the crime scene falls under the Taman Tun Dr Ismail jurisdiction and they had to go there to make the report and send the evidence.
“The inspector I spoke to was polite but didn't seem to know anything about the video on YouTube. I think she probably doesn't watch YouTube.” Chen says she did not really expect the police to catch the guys but she wishes that a bit more had been done.
Like Chen, Seow is also disappointed that the crime seems to be low on the police's priority list. “There is so much that t he police can do,” he says, pointing out that the particular spot at Section 16 seems to be a hot area for smash-and-snatch thieves.
One problem, he feels, is that too many drivers, especially women drivers, are still careless about their safety. “Many leave their handbags on the passenger seat, which makes them easy targets. The snatch thieves seem to make their decision on that basis.”
Chen agrees and is now advising fellow women drivers to stay vigilant always. “Do not put your handbag on the passenger seat. Lock your doors. Keep your phone with you. Don't put all your money in your handbag. Keep some cash on you.” She says that before the incident, she tended to drive on autopilot, especially on a route that she takes often.
“But since the robbery, I have been more cautious and look in the rear view and side mirrors often, especially when motorcyclists come close.” More importantly, advises Seow, drivers should secure their car by installing security film or safety tint on their side windows.
“It is about profiling for the criminals. If I was a snatch thief, I will not choose a car that is armoured' or strong. I'll choose a small, weak' car, with windows that are not tinted or secured. I'll chose a woman driver because they are easier targets and are more vulnerable,” he says.
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