Phnom Penh residents expressed doubt Monday that police will arrest the men responsible for two high-profile shootings in recent days, and questioned the ability of the police to ensure security in the capital.
Unidentified gunmen on motorbikes shot Free Trade Union official Hy Vuthy dead Saturday, and Friday a gunman seriously wounded popular singer Pov Panhapich, who is currently being treated in Vietnam.
“When the shootings happen, we never find the murderers,” said Phong Peng, a 39-year-old municipal traffic police officer in Prampi Makara district.
Although police generally work hard to apprehend criminals, security in the city is “very low,” he said.
But the incidence of crime relates more to a weak judiciary than to the police force, Phong Peng said.
“All the thieves and robbers will never be afraid of the police because the court releases them,” he claimed.
Nov Vady, a 20-year-old student at Norton University, said killing in Cambodia is “easy.”
“I don’t think police protect people,” he added.
Nov Vady said he was surprised, however, by the brazen, mid-morning shooting of Pov Panhapich, 23, on a busy stretch of Norodom Boulevard.
“Cambodian democracy seems to go down after killings happen and no one cracks down on the killers,” he said.
In a report earlier this month, the Phnom Penh Municipality said the rate of serious crime in the capital had decreased by 28 percent in 2006 compared with 2005.
Last year, 606 serious crimes were committed in Phnom Penh, compared to 847 in 2005, Deputy Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong said when the report was launched. But there were 30 murders in the capital in 2006, two more than the previous year, he added.
Neither National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy nor Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth could be reached for comment.
Khov Sang, a taxi driver, claimed that general crime appears to have increased under the watch of a police force plagued by “corruption and nepotism.”
Police will work hard to find a criminal who has targeted someone powerful, Khov Sang said. But police will also protect a powerful person who commits a crime, he claimed.
“If a killer shoots a powerful man there is a hope that police will find the killer…. Ordinary people die like cats and dogs,” he said.
Vy Vin, a snack vendor on Sisowath Quay, said she was confident police would find suspects in the shooting of Pov Panhapich because she is famous. But, she added: “If an ordinary person on the street was shot, I don’t think police would catch the murderer.”
Asked about the poor public perception of the police force, Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said crimes occur all over the world.
If members of the public put their names to formal complaints about how the police forces operates, their complaints will be reviewed, he said.
“Police do not protect or seek out criminals based on a person’s wealth or power, nor do they make investigations for financial rewards, he said. Investigations take time and the force cares about its public image, Khieu Sopheak added.
“We want to receive the thumbs up…. We will look back on our weak points if we receive the thumbs down.”
Municipal Court Judge Ke Sakhorn on Tuesday defended the court system, which he said is improving and noted that convicted criminals who threaten “social order, stability or dignity” are never released prior to the conclusion of their sentence.
Some suspects are rightly released on bail before they have been sentenced, but court officials never release people in return for bribes, Ke Sakhorn said.
Until the police and the judiciary are reformed as institutions, individual officials won’t be able to maintain order, said Chea Vannath, the former president of the Center for Social Development.