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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Crimes against expats here to stay, says expert

Crimes against expats here to stay, says expert

A SURVEY soon to be published will confirm expatriate suspicions that they are being

targeted by robbers who stake out pockets of Phnom Penh where many foreigners live.

"We have established that the greatest number of attacks on expatriates happen

in the places where you find the highest concentration of expats," says Carole

Garrison, chief of the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia (CCC), the NGO umbrella-agency

which has joined forces with local police to lick crime against foreigners. "Most

criminal activity happens in expat residential areas, therefore the attackers are

coming to us."

CCC and the Ministry of Interior have just completed a two-month security survey

of city-based NGOs. The findings should be made public within days.

According to Garrison, many of the attacks over May and June were "crimes of

opportunity" or "random attacks", although she did not rule out the

possibility that robbers are deliberately stalking some individuals.

Based on these statistics of actual crime which she calls "heuristic",

she believes that the "general patterns of foreigners are being observed".

"One might suspect foreigners are being followed home," says Garrison.

The survey singles out "NGO Land" - enclosed by the junctions of Sihanouk,

Mao Tse Tung, Monivong and Norodom boulevards - as the area which was most heavily

targeted.

In the survey, sent to 72 NGOs in July, respondents were asked to map information

which will enable local police to pinpoint foreign-risk areas, discern crime patterns,

and identify the habits of Westerners which make them potential targets.

The survey aims to make the most of the Ministry's thin resources and to heighten

expat awareness that there is a "visible and active police presence" in

Phnom Penh, says Garrison.

The survey has also been designed to make the fight against anti-expat crime proactive,

rather than reactive.

Garrison commends Interior for having responded promptly over the past two months

to foreign requests for tighter security in the capital, by deploying crack police

units.

Now is the time, says Garrison, to take the fight to the next stage - to prevent

crime rather than merely react to it - while recognizing the limits of resources

at the disposal of police.

She hopes that through this proactive strategy, the fear of crime among expats will

be diminished, while the grip on real crime will be tightened.

The survey will also serve as a benchmark for police to plot their future strategy,

Garrison says.

Six months from now, she explains, Cambodian police will be able to measure their

performance against these statistics.

Garrison, an ex-cop from Atlanta and professor of Criminal Justice at the University

of Akron in Ohio, says realism and common sense are needed.

She counsels expats to ensure their own safety by vigilantly lowering their profile

as potential targets, and not leaving it entirely up to the police.

Garrison also advises expats to take all the necessary precautions to ensure their

own safety at home.

"If guards have to be absent from the premises, vary times that they are away

from their posts so as not to create a pattern.

"Be sure the area in front of your residence is well lighted; put up a corrugated

screen or other type of privacy fence so people cannot observe your premises; have

guards open the gate immediately upon your arrival home; have sturdy doors and locks

installed at entrances."

She urges foreigners to vary their daily patterns to throw off potential criminals,

who might be observing clusters of expats over time before striking.

"You have to change your habits in order to make yourself less predictable to

the unseen observer," Garrison adds.

Another tip, she says, is to walk "with a certain confidence" to make yourself

look less vulnerable on the streets.

Garrison, a former UNTAC electoral monitor, says the days of sweet innocence for

expats are over.

Rather than react pointlessly by speculating about why crime is occurring at such

alarming rates, or by pinning accusations of incompetence and corruption on local

authorities, expats should assist them in their crusade against crime, she says.

For instance, foreigners should use their embassies to set up neighborhood watches,

or lobby their home governments to set aside donor money for lighting the streets

of Phnom Penh.

Expats also need to strike a balance between their anxieties of being a potential

victims and the realities of crime in Cambodia - which she sees are far worse for

the average Cambodian.

The so-called "crimewave" in Cambodia which has captured world headlines

has been sensationalized, she says, but is not something that will vanish overnight.

Due to the expat community's relatively small size, actual crime only magnifies fear

of crime in the eyes of expats, she explains.

However, Garrison cautions: "We cannot go back to the perception that Phnom

Penh is perfectly safe. No longer will this city tolerate all kinds of behavior on

the part of foreigners.

"Everyday, as more and more of us pour into this city, there is an increasing

disparity between haves and have-nots.

"Sooner or later, expats will have to treat living in Phnom Penh like they treat

living in any other Western city where crime is a day-to-day urban reality."

Above all, Garrison is convinced that to overcome crime, expats must first overcome

their prejudices and stereotypes of Cambodians, largely directed against politicians

and the local security services. Expats, she maintains, cannot "have it both

ways".

"They're not incompetent," says Garrison of the Interior Ministry brass

who have cooperated with CCC.

"With minimal resources, they are working within an environment which has a

reputation for corruption, but they cannot operate in the dark," she adds. "Police

will not be able to get anything done unless expats help them."

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