More robberies threaten safety in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City

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A police official has been suspended for alleged connections with a criminal gang in HCMC; Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc calls for closer supervision of local police to prevent similar cases.

Ho Chi Minh City traffic and mobile police forces during a campaign to tackle crime in the city's downtown area. Photo by Dam Huy

Vu Truong Chinh was waiting at a red light on Ho Chi Minh City's Ba Huyen Thanh Quan Street when two robbers on a motorbike snatched VND50 million (US$2,370) from his pocket.

He chased after them and managed to take the money from the robber's hand, but it dropped on the ground.

Many people stopped to pick the money while Chinh continued to chase after the two robbers.

Khanh Le, a passer-by who helped Chinh in an attempt to catch the robbers, soon realized that many people who picked the money were actually the robbers' accomplices.

"After I blocked them with my bike, the two robbers crashed but I was immediately hit by another one, who took the money," he said. "The two robbers quickly got on the bikes of their accomplices and fled."

Similar robbery cases have become more common in HCMC recently, prompting concerns among local residents.

At a recent meeting with HCMC lawmakers, Le Van Xac, a resident in Thu Duc District, said: "Currently, people feel unsafe on the street, especially following cases when the robbers unlease brutal attacks just to steal small sums of money."

Another constituent, Nguyen Van Duc, said many people do not feel safe even at home.

"It's really miserable when being on the street. We have to watch out for street robbers while worrying that the thieves may be sneaking into our home at the same time," he said.

Unsafe cities

In HCMC, there have been more than 5,100 crimes so far this year, more than half of which were robberies.

Major General Nguyen Phi Hung from the Ministry of Public Security said the actual number of crimes is higher because many victims do not report crimes to police.

According to the ministry, crimes in HCMC have increased 2.9 percent over last year and make up 10.5 percent of nationwide crimes.

Deputy Minister of Public Security Le Quy Vuong said HCMC police "owe the citizens" for having been unable to investigate 36 percent of the crimes this year.

In Hanoi, traditionally considered a safer city than HCMC, crime is on the rise too.

The Hanoi police reported a total of 4,500 crimes so far this year, of which more than 500 were robberies. The robberies have increased by nearly 17 percent over the same period last year.

In some cases, street robbers entered victims' houses to snatch stuff.

On March 1, a robber entered a house in Hanoi's Dinh Ho Quarter and snatched an iPad from the hands of 10-year-old Ngo Quang Tuan Anh who was playing on the first floor.

The robber also took an iPhone off the table before fleeing with his accomplice who was waiting on a motorbike outside.

A week later, a robber rushed into the house of Le Thi Thu on Kim Nguu Street and took an iPad from the hand of her two-year-old grandchild.

Investigators later arrested the two robbers, Hoang Ngoc Diep and Trinh Xuan Tung, who confessed to both cases.

Police inaction

According to Major Nguyen Minh Quang of the Hanoi Police Department, most thieves in the city are young drug addicts who do not use weapons like so many cases in HCMC.

However, he admitted that many gangs have also migrated from nearby provinces for occasional robberies, which made police investigations difficult.

"They are "˜opportunistic' robbers who may come to Hanoi in the morning to steal and return to their home provinces in the afternoon," he said, adding that local residents should not wear jewelry or use expensive phones on the street.

In the last two weeks, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attended two separate Hanoi and HCMC police meetings to review their work. He warned of increasing crime in the country's two biggest cities.

"Hanoi and HCMC are criminal hubs. So fighting crime must be a permanent task for all relevant agencies," he said.

He said police are not determined to tackle criminals.

"Tourists do not feel safe. Residents are still concerned about nighttime thefts and street robberies," he said.

Luong Ngoc Tram, deputy head judge of the Supreme People's Court in HCMC, said relevant agencies did not predict the current crime situation.

"Without [proper] forecasting, we have been very inactive. I think judicial agencies have been inactive and do not have strong and adequate measures despite many efforts," she said.

She said relevant agencies have been "slow" in coordinating with each other to fight crimes.

Corruption

Deputy Prime Minister Phuc instructed both Hanoi and HCMC police to straighten up and said local police chiefs would be held accountable if crime continues to rise in their jurisdictions.

"Criminal charges should be pressed against [police] protection for criminals," he said.

At the meeting with Phuc last week in HCMC, Maj Gen Hung said the criminal situation was "complicated" when it came to organized crime.

"There have been fights between gangs for operation areas. Gangs from Hanoi have also moved to HCMC," he said.

He instructed city police to better manage the police at district and ward levels to avoid them being bribed by criminal gangs.

The instructions from Phuc and Hung regarding police protection for criminals came after a recent case in HCMC in which a ward police official was accused of protecting a criminal gang in Binh Thanh District.

Last week, the Binh Thanh Police Department announced that it had suspended Lieutenant Colonel Pham Hoai Chau, deputy police chief of Ward 26, pending further investigation.

"Chau is responsible for lax surveillance, leading to rampant gambling and prostitution, and especially for [alleged involvement] in the operations of "˜crazy' Ty's gang in the Mien Dong Bus Station area," Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper quoted a ward police source as saying.

He said there have been "signs" of Chau's personal relationship with Nguyen Trong Ngon, or "crazy" Ty.

Chau has met with Ty and Ty's motorbike used to be owned by Chau, he said.

Ty's gang is being investigated for involvement in serial cases of kidnapping, illegal protection of buses, brothels posing as massage parlors and barber shops, theft and assault.

The Ministry of Public Security said Ty's gang has been involved in seven serious crimes since 2010.

So far, 10 suspected gang members have been arrested by the Ministry of Public Security, who later transferred the case to HCMC police for further investigation.

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