Amid Rising Crime in Capital, Felonies Down

Rights groups say official figures are not credible

Crime in Phnom Penh increased by almost 12 percent in 2009 compared to the previous year, according to City Hall’s annual crime re­port. But the number of serious crimes in the capital fell by more than 26 percent, according to the report.

Human rights groups were critical of the report, saying its figures were far too low due to the underreporting of criminal offenses by citizens who still mistrust local authorities.

According to the 20-page report dated Monday, 393 reported crimes occurred in the capital last year of which 128 were serious crimes—such as murder, armed robbery, rape and drug trafficking—and 265 minor crimes.

For the total number of registered offenses the police arrested 503 suspects and solved 349 cases, or 89 percent. More than 97 percent of suspects, or 489 individuals, were sent to court for prosecution.

“Of course, we are proud be­cause we have seen a dramatic decrease of more than 25 percent for serious crimes, which include armed robberies, murders, killings, etc,” said Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naruth.

For 2008, City Hall reported 351 criminal offenses—174 serious crimes and 177 minor crimes—down from 357 in 2007.

Despite “some minor cases” that citizens in Phnom Penh did not report to police, Mr Naruth said that City Hall figures reflected an accurate picture of the levels of crime in the capital.

“One of the most noticeable declines in crime was in gang fighting,” he added, making reference to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s order in June to crack down on youth gangs operating in the country’s major urban centers.

Figures reveal 214 registered cases of gang related crime in 2009, resulting in 897 arrests. But only 119 of those arrested were ever sent to the court with 576 being sent back to their parents’ home.

After another government directive last year to crack down on illicit gambling businesses in the capital, 1,105 gambling operations were shut down in 2009, resulting in 73 prosecutions, figures show.

Moreover, 74 cases related to the sex trade and human trafficking were investigated resulting in 91 arrests. Police also arrested 86 drug smugglers.

Only seven people were arrested for the illegal possession of a firearm.

When compared to other cities in the world with populations comparable to that of Phnom Penh, the capital’s crime statistics appear to be very low.

For example, serious offenses registered in Boston in the US state of Massachusetts hit 28,881 in 2008, even though its population of a little over 600,000. Phnom Penh has approximately 1.3 million inhabitants, or more than twice as many people.

Civil society groups yesterday said they doubted the credibility of the municipality’s findings, underlining the high numbers of crimes that go unreported due to a lack of trust in the authorities.

“Whatever we have noticed and monitored from year-to-year, we’ve seen both penal cases and minor crimes increasing,” said Chan Soveth, head of the monitoring section for the human rights organization Adhoc.

Adhoc’s Phnom Penh office records at least six serious crimes every day in the capital, he added.

One of the main indicators that crime rose last year, he said, was the increase in the number of prisoners being held in jail both in Phnom Penh and at a provincial level.

“There were a lot of serious crimes that occurred in 2009 like armed robberies at gold shops,” he said.

Many cases—serious or not—are brought to low level police officers who never report the incident to more competent units in the force’s upper echelons, said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.

Although City Hall figures would seem to portray a “very efficient” police force, the actual number of criminal offenses is higher, said Mr Sam Oeun.

People “don’t trust police…especially with stealing and robbery cases,” he said. Mr Sam Oeun said, however, that police nationwide received higher levels of training in 2009.

Still a lack of preventative measures against corruption within the police force continues to curb the standard of policing here, he said.

“The police are not yet neutral enough,” he said, adding that a law prohibiting police officials from belonging to political parties was a necessary reform, especially in the run up to the national elections in 2012.

Seila Samleang, country director for NGO Action Pour Les Enfants, said he did not have figures for rape or human trafficking crimes in 2009, but added that police appear to be doing more to combat the crimes.

“There has been an increase in the Cambodian National Police in cracking down on criminal activities,” said Mr Samleang.

But more effort to improve the efficiency within the judicial system is still needed in order to bring perpetrators to justice once they have been arrested.

“There is still a lack of motivation of the victim to go ahead with their judicial procedures,” Mr Samleang said, adding that lengthy and complicated legal procedures often proved too complicated for victims.

“Delay to trials have been always very bad in cases in 2009,” he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on the accuracy of City Hall’s figures but expressed displeasure that overall crime levels in the capital had risen in 2009.

“How can we be pleased when the crime increased?” he asked. “We fulfill our jobs not so good.”

Mr Sopheak, however, commended police efforts in solving nearly 90 percent of the total number of registered criminal cases.

 

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