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Volunteers catch thieves after appeal on Internet
By Wu Jiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-01-25 05:58

NANJING: Thieves are being caught in the act by a group posing as "vulnerable" targets on the streets of Nanjing.

The group collared more than 10 pickpockets within two days during their first operation last weekend in the capital of East China's Jiangsu Province.

Their tactics, which include both taking pictures of the thieves to give to police and sometimes even using physical violence, have drawn both condemnation and praise.

Li Rong, the leader of the group, has drawn members from the Internet.

About 20 recruits turned up to offer their services last weekend after he posted a notice and hundreds more responded to it online.

According to Li, his group can judge thieves from their appearances.

Some members were asked to pretend to be careless street-goers in order to lure out pickpockets.

They targeted crowded places in the city, a haven for thieves.

"About 900 people answered my notice within 24 hours and most of them have been stolen from before," said Li.

"While the police resources are so limited, we want to do what we can as responsible citizens."

The work of Li's group has created much debate after being publicized by the local media.

Most ordinary citizens voiced their support for its efforts.

"To teach thieves a lesson is very meaningful. If nothing is done to them, they will become more daring," said Wu Jian, a resident in Nanjing.

Wang Hongbo, a member of staff at the local public security bureau, said while police appreciated the support of Li's group, members needed to be cautious as street gangs could be violent.

Wang warned volunteers that they had no right to beat the thieves, even if they caught them stealing.

Zhu Xiaofeng, from the Nanjing-based Dingdian Law Firm, was more cautious over the actions of the group.

According to Zhu, while it was acceptable to apprehend thieves at the spot, taking pictures, carrying out searches or using physical violence could infringe their rights.

But Li, the group leader, said: "A little violence is inevitable if we want to get the thieves to confess."

Several cases of members of the public voluntarily uniting together to combat crime have been reported in recent years across the country.

It was reported last December that the public security bureau even trained some public volunteers with professional techniques to catch thieves in Huizhou, South China's Guandong Province.

(China Daily 01/25/2006 page3)

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