Cops on the receiving end

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Increasing assaults on traffic cops indicate faults on both sides, senior official says

 
A still from a clip that shows Phuc (L), a mobile police officer, attacking Sergeant-Major Luan, a traffic cop who stopped the former for driving without a helmet

It sounds too bad to be true, but hundreds of traffic police officers are getting beaten up by aggressive citizens every year in Vietnam.

Worse still, officials say the cops might have brought it upon themselves with their arrogant behavior.

The assaults have hurt the image of the police force, but they are also a strong reflection of widespread disregard for traffic regulations, a senior police official said.

"Many policemen have displayed unsuitable conduct and have failed to persuade civilians or have been authoritarian and imperious, leading to actions against them," said lieutenant general Tran Dai Quang, the newly appointed Minister of Public Security.

He said in a few cases, residents have acted against policemen because the latter had themselves violated laws while they were on duty.

On the other hand, Quang said, an increase in the assaults on cops is also a "side effect" of the market economy where some ignored laws and were ready to oppose anyone who threatened their profit-making.

According to the Ministry of Public Security, 90 policemen have been killed and more than 1,000 others injured in the line of duty since 1998.

Anti-cop violence has worsened over the last several years, and most of these involved traffic police officials, ministry statistics show.

Statistics compiled by Hanoi police show a total of 254 cases of policemen being assaulted between 2007 and June 2011, including 125 involving traffic policemen.

Corresponding figures are not available for Ho Chi Minh City and other southern localities, but two headline-grabbing cases indicate that the problem is serious in this part of the country as well.

In one of the cases, a traffic policeman in HCMC was attacked by an off-duty policeman on the street, while in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho, it was a judicial official doing the attacking.

Set a cop to"¦

In the cop assault that happened in HCMC's Binh Thanh District on July 28, lieutenant Tran Dai Phuc, 30, of the municipal Mobile Police Division No. 1, has been suspended pending investigation into allegations that he assaulted a traffic policeman on duty.

In Vietnam, the mobile police division is a permanent taskforce that can be assigned to work independently or cooperate with other divisions against a wide range of crimes, from causing public disturbances to terrorism.

Witnesses on Xo Viet Nghe Tinh Street said at around 11 a.m., Phuc, dressed in plainclothes, was pulled over by sergeant major Van Thanh Luan for driving a motorcycle without a helmet.

Phuc accused Luan of hitting him in order to stop him and began to attack the traffic police with a metal rod he picked up from a roadside shop. In a clip of the scene a passer-by recorded and posted on YouTube, Phuc pushes Luan into a shop and they flail at each other a few times. Onlookers said the fight ended quickly and they left the scene.

On Monday, Phuc told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that Luan had hit him from behind and chased after him. He had picked up the metal rod for his counterattack, he said. But the incident was yet to blow over.

Phuc said soon after returning home, his father Tran Dai Phuoc, a retired policeman, took him to the Hang Xanh Traffic Police Station where Luan works, to clarify what had happened.

He admitted that he began shouting there after a captain on duty refused to receive them during the noon break. He also accused the captain of pointing a pistol at him.

"I was really scared and attempted to take my cell phone out of my pocket to make a call to a local policeman, but a knife dropped out at the same time," Phuc was quoted by Tuoi Tre as saying. "The policemen at the station beat us when I tried to pick up the knife," he said, claiming that it was a knife that he used to peel fruit.

Meanwhile, the captain said Phuc had attempted to stab him with the knife before other policemen at the station subdued the father and son and seized the knife.

On Monday, Colonel Le Anh Tuan, spokesman of the HCMC Police Department, said it was clear that mobile policeman Phuc "acted against government officers on duty." He said they will announce his punishment after the investigation is completed.

On the same day, the Ministry of Public Security instructed HCMC police to speed up the investigation and inform the public of conclusions drawn.

Judicial official vs. cop

Two days before Phuc's assault, a similar incident happened in Can Tho City's Cai Rang District when an off-duty judicial official assaulted a traffic policeman for pulling him over for speeding.

Local investigators on July 29 arrested Huynh Van Thang, 49, deputy head of the Judicial Division of Hau Giang Province's Chau Thanh District for attacking a traffic policeman on duty.

On July 26, a group of traffic policemen patrolling National Highway 1A in Cai Rang District stopped Thang for speeding. They said Thang was driving his motorcycle at 57 kph in a 40 kph zone.

Thang signed a report admitting his fault but refused to write his name as required. When he was asked to undergo an alcohol test next, he took umbrage at this and began assaulting second lieutenant Phan Vinh Minh by grabbing him by the collar and snatching his shoulder badge. Other traffic police officials stepped in and apprehended him when he attempted to take Minh's pistol next.

Nguyen Van Chien, head of Chau Thanh District Judicial Division, said Thang had received some guests and was drunk when driving back home.

Cai Rang police said they have launched criminal investigations into the case.

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