More than 100 police officers descended on a notorious slum in Sen Sok district’s Toek Thla commune on Friday in a coordinated effort to flush out drug-related crime from the ghetto, ultimately arresting 88 people for using or selling crystal methamphetamine.
Born Sam Ath, deputy municipal police chief in charge of crime suppression, said Friday’s raid of a neighborhood built on top of a drainage pond in Trapaing Chhouk village lasted from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We arrested 88 suspects, nine of them women under the age of 25 years old,” he said. “For three hours, 100 police surrounded the lake and we found all the suspects were smoking ice, while some were playing gambling machines and had drugs on them.”
Videos posted online by police show those arrested cuffed with plastic ties and bundled onto trucks before being driven away. Mr. Sam Ath said the majority of them were “robbers and thieves” and would be tested for drugs over the weekend.
Police and military police carry out frequent raids on the enclave—yesterday’s was the second of the week—but seizures are usually trifling and arrests are of mostly low-level dealers and users, many of whom travel from outside the area to get high in makeshift huts that can be rented by the hour.
On Wednesday, military police arrested 26 people under the age of 30, mostly students, but seized only two small bags of drugs. Mr. Sam Ath said police have arrested more than 700 drug users in Trapaing Chhouk this year, with about half sent to prison and half “educated” and released.
People living and working in buildings along the main street in front of the cloistered enclave have said that the frequent raids were mostly futile, as the illicit activities continued to grow underneath the rusty canopy of corrugated roofs.
Police have blamed the convoluted layout and narrow alleys that serve as the only entry points to the slum for making it difficult to access, giving criminals time to escape by dropping through purpose-built trap-doors into the sewage pond below.
On Friday, however, dozens of suspects who attempted to flee the swarm of police found their escape routes were cut off.
“Some of the suspects jumped into the lake to run, but our police officers followed them into the water and chased them until they had been arrested, said Mr. Sam Ath, adding that police also surrounded the perimeter of the pond to arrest people climbing out of the water.
When reporters visited Trapaing Chhouk last year, people living there described an amorphous network of small-time dealers who supplement meager incomes from legitimate work, with children as young as 12 running small packets of “ice” around the wooden walkways and ramshackle huts.
Hours after the raid on Wednesday, a barber who lives and works on the edge of the rubbish-filled pond said police claimed to have been cleaning up the area for years, but to no avail.
“It is still going on, it is still happening just like it has always happened,” the 55-year-old said. “The police always come and they arrest drug users but nothing changes, so we don’t know what is going on.”
But this week’s raids were proof that authorities were taking the task of cleaning up Trapaing Chhouk seriously, said Mr. Sam Ath, the deputy municipal police chief.
“We have increased arrests in Trapaing Chhouk by 50 to 60 percent,” he said. “We won’t allow this area to sink into anarchy.”
At 2:30 Friday afternoon, the remaining police were removing about a dozen gaming machines from the shacks that were raided as scores of bemused onlookers still lined the streets.
Most were unwilling to talk to reporters.
A moto-taxi driver who asked to be called Luke said the latest raid was unlikely to stop the local drug trade.
“They making it look good. They arresting for the cameras,” he said of the police raid. “But this place is worse than a jungle and the whole area is tight—it’s like buying candy from a candy store.”