Crossing Cambodia

Friday, February 09, 2007

'Law enforcement?'

'Mob Chases Police After Teen Falls From Bike'.
Front page of today's (February 9, 2006) Cambodia Daily. Quotes from the event:

'A hundreds-strong mob descended on 3 Phnom Penh traffic police officers Thursday morning and destroyed a police motorcycle after the officers alledgedly injured a teenage boy, witnesses said. [The victim] alleged that the officers knocked him from the back of his friend's moving motorbike ...'

In the end the policemen escaped and their motorcycle was a bit damaged. But why would the policemen act in such a fashion? The Municipal Traffic Police Chief said:
'the teenager fell from the bike when the driver was attempting a reckless, high speed maneuver to dodge the officers. The motorcycle was travelling against the direction of the traffic.'
What's strange in this story? Not the fact that the motorcycle was driving against the traffic, but the fact that the police took the trouble to try to apprehend the driver! Driving against the traffic is defacto norm inspite of diametrically opposing traffic rules.

But behind this incident there is more. It was 'the first time the traffic police was rallied against by a mob', apparently. A motorcycle driver was quoted dissenting against the police:
'traffic police are deployed around the city like nets to fish every street for money.'
Socheata Sann, road safety program manager of Handicap International, discusses the lack of respect for traffic police:
'the public's poor opinion of the traffic police is the general lack of knowledge concerning the rules of the road and height of fines for breaking the rules.'
Then an opposition politician wades into the debate stressing that both law enforcement and the judiciary are dubious as
'they are often perceived as oppressing the poor.'

Clearly, there are issues on both sides. Road users in Cambodia have little notion about common traffic rules. They also prefer not to stop for traffic police. The traffic police on the other hand have trouble apprehending offenders but have little legal back-up in the form of clear laws with clear defined fines/penalties, so they just ask what they feel like for penalties for not even clear offensives. They are also not assisted by politicians who often produce ill-advised 'directives' which the police are to maintain. So how to move forward?
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