Rising crime may surge before New Year in Vietnam metro

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Law enforcement is ambivalent, criminals are unafraid of police, and residents have nowhere to turn

Police inspect identity papers of a suspect on a street in downtown Ho Chi Minh City. City police are preparing for a surge in crimes before Tet, Vietnam's Lunar New Year. Photo by Dam Huy

Ho Chi Minh City police have pressed murder and robbery charges against six men accused of robbing several xe om (motorbike taxi) drivers to feed their drug habit.

Police said last week that the group's leader Ha Van Luu, 18, and five accomplices, aged between 16 and 48, attacked three xe om drivers in two different cases last May.

The gang hired the drivers to take them to dark and empty streets and then stabbed a robbed them. One driver, Lai Van Nhon, died and two others suffered serious injuries.

Luu and alleged accomplice Duong Gia Hai were apprehended while under treatment at the city's drug detoxification center, police said.

Although robberies have decreased in downtown, serious cases have been reported in the outskirts of Ho Chi Minh City.

Overall crimes in the city this year have increased compared to the same period last year, prompting law enforcement agencies to prepare for the worst over the holiday season, when crimes traditionally spike.

But city residents know the police force only by its reputation for ineffectiveness and apathy.

At a meeting with HCMC leaders on December 7, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung demanded stricter law enforcement in the country's southern hub.

"The HCMC People's Committee has to maintain social security and order and"¦ take down criminals and social evils," he said.

According to city police, there have been more than 6,200 crimes so far this year, 290 more cases than last year. Some 133 people have been killed and 758 others were injured in the crimes.

Police say they have taken down 837 criminal gangs and have arrested more than 2,100 people.

Murders have increased by 19 percent over last year. Other crimes on the rise include kidnapping, rape, swindling, thievery, opposing government officials in the execution of their duty and illegal detention.

Have an unsafe holiday

Last week, the city held several meetings with representatives from the central government and the Ministry of Public Security to discuss measures to tackle crimes in the city.

Major general Phan Anh Minh, deputy director of the HCMC Police Department, said his agency would launch a campaign to step up the fight against crime on December 14.

City police will coordinate with police in nearby province to bust criminals on the move, he said.

However, many people are still concerned as things appear to be getting worse.

At a meeting of the city's People's Council, the legislature, on December 9, many representatives said they were worried crime would surge at the year's end and during the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday.

Nguyen Van Tuoi said rampant robberies worried him the most and he argued that relevant laws were not strict enough.

"Thieves have become more cunning. They steal property valuing less than VND2 million [US$97] to avoid criminal charges," he said.

"The people are worried and do not trust [the police] because when they catch a thief and hand him over to the police, the thief is released as soon as police record the case," he added.

Tran Van Khuyen said city authorities should review their crime reports because he suspected the situation was even more serious than they were letting on.

"People have to put valuable things into old and bad bags to avoid [robbers'] attention, otherwise they will be snatched right away," he said.

Cao Thanh Binh said drug crimes have also increased while the city does not have enough mechanisms in place to tackle the issue.

When President Nguyen Tan Sang met with constituents in HCMC on December 3, war veteran Nguyen Van Thang from District 4 said Vietnamese society had become unsafe.

"Women do not dare to wear earrings and necklaces when going out day or night," he said. "We can defeat a foreign invasion but cannot defeat an "˜internal invasion'. Terrible!"

Criminal hub

According to Colonel Dinh Thanh Nhan, HCMC has several "black spots" where crime is spiraling out of control in districts 8, 9 and Binh Tan.

According to HCMC police, unemployed migrants are becoming criminals in increasing numbers, constituting the largest growing new criminal group this year.

They are mostly young people and often form brutal and reckless gangs, investigators said.

In a report to review three years of implementing a Politburo instruction on tackling crimes in HCMC, the city people's committee said many criminal gangs have moved south from Hanoi and other northern and north-central provinces.

They are willing to use homemade guns to compete with others offering protection for illegal "sensitive services" like massage parlors that are really prostitution businesses, the report said.

City police also warned about an increase in drug-influenced criminals.

Police impotence

Nguyen Phi Hung, deputy director of the anti-crime police department at the Ministry of Public Security, said organized crime has penetrated many realms of society.

"Many people choose organized criminals instead of the police in helping them get back money. People have become afraid of criminals while the criminals are not afraid of the police," he said.

At a meeting with HCMC leaders on December 7, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said he was concerned that some police are irresponsible in handing crime reports.

"It is unacceptable when residents are afraid of the criminals and the criminals are not afraid of the police," he said.

He also pointed out that some police ignore residents' complaints and crime reports in order to submit lower crime statistics to their superiors.

"The police have to tighten management of this issue because otherwise residents will become confused and lose their confidence in the government," he said.

Phuc instructed city authorities to punish any policeman who protects and/or harbors criminals.

Hung, the public security ministry official, also said local police are supposed to know organized criminals in their areas because it takes time for a gang to occupy or influence an area.

"The difficult thing is that many gangs have complicated connections with responsible officials. The gangs have much money and are willing to use swords and axes to get what they want.

"We need to rebuild the police force with good, talented officials assigned to major [crime] areas to cope with these criminals."

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