Police Chief Publicly Scolded for Apathy Amid Crime Spree

Addressing a crowd of angry residents in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district on Tuesday, municipal police commissioner Chuon Sovann berated an acting commune police chief for allowing drug users, armed robbers and sword-wielding gangsters to run riot in the area, even threatening to withhold his pending promotion to full chief.

Since Duong Vannak took over from retiring Phnom Penh Thmei police chief Keo Sothort about two months ago, residents of the commune on the northern fringe of the city have been complaining of an increase in crime, according to commune chief Chum Saray, who helped host a public forum to address their grievances on Tuesday morning.

At the center of complaints raised during the event was the apparent apathy of Mr. Vannak, who notably evoked the ire of the community when his officers refused to arrest a man caught stealing plastic chairs from a banquet hall.

“His officers did not take custody of the thief because they did not have a [formal] complaint, and then they allowed him to go free,” Mr. Saray said, explaining that the incident and others like it led Lieutenant General Sovann to shame Mr. Vannak in front of the crowd.

“His Excellency Chuon Sovann said: ‘You don’t have the ability to become a commune police chief because they allowed you to work as the acting commune police chief in order to appoint you as the commune police chief, but you act like this,’” he said.

Mr. Saray said he shared in the villagers’ frustration with Mr. Vannak, who has worked as a police officer in the commune for more than 10 years and previously served as deputy police chief.

Chea Sambath, deputy chief of Kok Kleang village, said that since Mr. Vannak took the helm of the commune force, he had recorded an increase in break-ins, while drug-addicted young men had begun terrorizing inhabitants with samurai swords.

“I noted in my book that commune police do not seem to help prevent these crimes, and do not cooperate with the people and local officials,” he said.

Reached on Wednesday, Mr. Vannak refused to comment on the dressing-down he received from the police commissioner but boasted that the chair thief and an accomplice were arrested by officers on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after the forum.

“Two suspects, Hun Channaro, 29, and Nen Vanneth, 24, were arrested,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Sovann could not be reached.

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