On Monday, the roadside fish restaurants along Street 51 in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district had closed for the Visak Bochea holiday. In the darkness, a squad of more than 20 armed tourist police was barely visible.
According to a military police officer manning the intersection with Street 184, the roadblock was set up to carry out stop-and-searches—mostly on young male motorbike riders, who fit the profile of the increasing number of bag snatchers and motorbike robbers that are giving the city a bad name.
“Mostly, we are concerned about males driving the Vespas, who drive around at night looking for tourists to steal their bags, or cameras, or phones, and maybe carry weapons,” said the officer, who only gave his name as Channa.
“We are showing people that the police are visible and that we are out on the streets at night to protect tourists and local people from crime.”
In March, the National Police announced that a draft plan to tackle rising reports of robberies of and attacks on foreigners had been sent to all 27 embassies in Phnom Penh. Two weeks later, a report was released by the U.S. Bureau of Diplomatic Security detailing attacks on embassy staff in Phnom Penh and labeling the crime situation in the country “critical.”
Him Yan, deputy director of the General Commissariat of National Police, said Wednesday that the new plan was now being implemented and that increased security would make the streets safer for foreign tourists and improve the capital’s image to help attract investors.
“We have been enhancing our tourist police force nationwide—anywhere tourists visit to improve safety,” Lieutenant General Yan said.
He declined to go into detail about what other measures the plan included, but said tourists would feel safer as police would be more visible.
“During the day, our tourist police force is standing by for 12 hours and they will be patrolling the streets until midnight…in cooperation with other police forces, especially in areas such as the Night Market, Wat Phnom and the riverside,” Lt. Gen. Yan said.
At about 10 p.m. Monday night, sudden activity at the checkpoint on Street 51 signaled it was time to go home for Channa and his colleagues. The police trucks took off just as the cluster of clubs and watering holes nearby started coming to life.
“It is almost 10 p.m.—we have been here since 6. But from now on, we will be all over the city,” he said.