Police chief is step ahead of criminals

Director of Capital Police says authorities treat crime like a 'germ' that requires new antibiotics; undercover work among favoured adaptations.

ABU DHABI // As crimes take new and different forms, so must police tactics, the city's top law-enforcement official has said in a rare interview. Far from simply patrolling the streets or relying on tips, officers must attack their beats in unusual fashions, ranging from posing as customers in search of "fortune-telling" to simply reading newspaper advertisements carefully, said Col Maktoum al Sharifi, the director of the Capital Police and former chief of the criminal investigation department (CID).

"Crimes are like a germs," he said. "If you treat them with an antibiotic, the germs gets used to it and becomes stronger, and this antibiotic does not work. "As a security authority, you should be an antibiotic that is adaptive, or you have to have different antibiotics. So we do not use one particular thing and not do another. Depending on a single measure does not work." Using more unmarked cars is one way the police can keep an eye on illegal activities, he said. Thirty to 35 undercover vehicles patrol the island, he said, looking for people who would ordinarily scatter if they saw a regular police car.

Such tactics have been especially successful in fighting illegal immigration, he said. "Usually, those people live on stealing, shoplifting, pickpocketing," he said. "Unmarked cars focus on people who engage in suspicious activities, when they are present in dodgy places. He noted that the fine for employing an illegal immigrant is Dh50,000 (US$13,600), and added: "It is a big case. It is a national-security issue."

Foot patrols by community policing officers dispatched between 9 and 11pm, when people are still out in the streets, are an important part of the effort too. Col al Sharifi said fraud had been successfully addressed through monitoring adverts on the internet and in newspapers. "Some people who placed ads in newspapers were arrested for fraud," he said, and cited an example. "There were a group of people who tried to swindle people by selling flats in Egypt. They were arrested after they placed fake ads in newspapers here."

Police checked with the Egyptian authorities and discovered that the flats advertised did not exist. After receiving clearance from prosecutors, they arrested the people who placed the ads. "We do not monitor all ads, of course," Col al Sharifi said. "We cannot claim we can cover the sun in one hand, but there are people who are working hard on this." Another form of fraud fortune-telling for a fee sometimes requires officers to go undercover and try to find those purporting to see the future.

A bit further out on the quasi-spiritual plane are cases of what Col al Sharifi described as "sorcery". "They trick people claiming they will cure them from infertility, or from the evil eye," he said. He said most perpetrators are expatriates without jobs who "opened a book about fortune-telling and learnt a few tricks" and take advantage of the gullible. Col al Sharifi said that serious law-enforcement issues were rare in the capital, in part because of the range of methods applied to combat them.

"Generally, when it comes to security due to the government's full support for security there are no security risks," he said. "There are no worrying phenomena such as those which take place elsewhere." hhassan@thenational.ae hdajani@thenational.ae