HCMC's District 1 becomes police panopticon amid crime wave

By Dinh Phu, Thanh Nien News

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A street camera (circled) overlooks September 23rd Park outside Ben Thanh market as part of Ho Chi Minh City's $12.7 million security project. Photo: Thuy Vi A street camera (circled) overlooks September 23rd Park outside Ben Thanh market as part of Ho Chi Minh City's $12.7 million security project. Photo: Thuy Vi

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The Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee has authorized District 1 to spend a US$12.7 million award it received for finishing out the year with a budgetary surplus on outdoor security cameras.
Several of the cameras have already been set up around Ben Thanh Market.

Last Saturday, District 1's chairman Pham Thanh Kien told Thanh Nien that cameras would eventually cover all of the district's major streets when the entire project fund is disbursed.
“We’re going to use them to maintain order and security in the area and better serve the people,” he said.
The cameras feed live images directly to a control center at the district police headquarters, which then dispatches officers to resolve traffic problems and address crimes whenever necessary.
The city authorities hope to have every downtown street under full surveillance by April 30 -- also known as Reunification Day, which marked the end of the Vietnam War in 1975,
Kien also pledged to impose tight controls on the city's drug users to keep them from publicly shooting up and nodding off in public spaces like  the September 23 Park.

The flyers must go on
The district chairman said they would resume the distribution of leaflets that warn foreign visitors about the cities robbers and con artists.
Uniformed police officers in Pham Ngu Lao Ward (AKA the backpackers’ area) began handing out flyers at coffee shops and bars frequented by foreigners in the middle of October as part of a trial outreach campaign.
The city's nine other wards are expected to follow suit once the program is deemed successful.
Many tourists seemed happy to have the flyers and media sources hailed the public awareness blitz as proactive, according to police.
"We don’t want to hide [the ugly truth] from tourists, so we will continue to hand out warnings"                        -- Pham Thanh Kien, chairman of District 1, Ho Chi Minh City
The trail outreach program stopped at the end of October after tourism representatives complained that the flyers painted Vietnam as a dangerous country.
“We don’t want to hide [the ugly truth] from tourists, so we will continue to hand out warnings,” Kien said.
But he said they would do it in a more delicate way, like distributing the leaflets through hotels and travel agencies.
Kien said 375 criminal violations, including robberies and bag snatchings, were reported in District 1 during the first nine months this year, an increase of 137 cases year-on-year.
“We feel very disturbed. Although we were determined to stop those crimes, we have not seen as much progress as we hoped to,” he said.
During a press conference last week, Major General Phan Anh Minh, deputy director of the Ho Chi Minh City police department, affirmed that the city would not try to hide the truth about its crime problem.
The leaflets keep tourists alert and leave them better equipped to guard their property, Minh said.
“That is normal and it's city policy,” he added.
When asked about plans to address the city's many taxi scams, Minh said his department has taken the fight over from the municipal tourism department, which failed to resolve the problem.
One of the six tips included on the controversial leaflet advised tourists not to trust dubious taxi meters.
“Gouging unsuspecting passengers is an art form for dishonest drivers," it read. "Stick to reliable companies such as Vinasun taxi and Mai Linh taxi.”
Minh said it's important to remain honest about these issues if the city hopes to address them.
“If we don’t disclose our shortcomings [to the tourists], others will. It will look even uglier if we leave others to criticize us instead of admitting the problem ourselves in order to fix it,” Minh said.

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