Government Turns to Women for Soft Policing

Tuy Thida, a 28-year-old traffic police officer, says she doesn’t take bribes.

Surveying traffic at the intersection of Sihanouk Boulevard and Street 63 in Phnom Penh on Wednesday, Ms. Thida could be the face of the Interior Ministry’s push to increase female representation among the nation’s police force from about 5 percent to at least 30 percent.

“When punishing people, I must follow the traffic law,” Ms. Thida said. “But I am not sure about other police. Sometimes they know people, so they forgive them and let them go.”

In a graduation ceremony at the police academy in Kandal province in January, there were just 65 graduating females to 1,142 males, in line with National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith’s estimate that women make up just 5 percent of the nation’s 58,000 officers.

On that day, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said that more female officers would be of great benefit to the force, suggesting that they are less abrasive than men.

In the months since, Kandal province has sent its first group of 12 women out onto the streets, Siem Reap province has created three squads of eight women who rotate through shifts, and Phnom Penh has upped its total to 14, including three who are part of an incident response team, according to local police officials contacted Wednesday.

Ty Long, deputy chief of the Interior Ministry’s public order department, said that the female traffic police were thus far proving a success.

“There is less confrontation with female police,” he said. “We believe our female officers can eventually become better than male police because their behavior is less aggressive and they are more reasonable.”

Traffic police generally work in teams of two, with one pulling over offenders and sending them to the sidewalk to be dealt with by a second officer. Female police generally fill the latter role, taking responsibility for writing fines or imposing warnings.

Seng Channat, chief of traffic police for Siem Reap province, said that this role seemed to suit those women who have joined the ranks there.

“I believe that female police will not simply forgive people who do wrong, as police have done in the past,” he said, referring to offenders who are stopped by police but allowed to leave without being officially punished.

For Ms. Thida, who joined the Phnom Penh traffic police after stints as a factory seamstress and a shop cashier, serving with integrity is the most important part of the job.

“I wanted to try police work. It’s different,” she said. “A lot of people that I stop try to deny their mistake, but I work very hard to make them understand the traffic law, to understand their mistake.”

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