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Chief decries fugitive backlog

Police sit around at the White Building in Phnom Penh last year while they were supposed to be conducting a search in the area. Chuon Sovann yesterday ordered police officers to be more proactive when it comes to catching the Kingdom’s fugitives.
Police sit around at the White Building in Phnom Penh last year while they were supposed to be conducting a search in the area. Chuon Sovann yesterday ordered police officers to be more proactive when it comes to catching the Kingdom’s fugitives. Vireak Mai

Chief decries fugitive backlog

Phnom Penh’s top cop has ordered his underlings to get out from behind their desks and catch the more than 3,500 fugitives wanted by city authorities, though local officers say they’re stifled by a lack of resources.

Speaking at an annual meeting of the Phnom Penh Municipal Command Committee on Monday, Phnom Penh police chief Chuon Sovann revealed that over the past 15 years, 3,567 alleged offenders had evaded arrest, including 1,948 named in felony warrants and 1,619 accused of misdemeanours.

Last year alone, 413 alleged felons, including armed robbers, murderers, drug peddlers and human traffickers, went uncaught, while 60 people evaded arrest over misdemeanours.

Saying poor links between police and the populace meant offenders could easily slip off the grid, Sovann called on his troops to improve their police work, particularly when it came to getting out and speaking to people.

“A lack of communication with local people leads to poor results when it comes to searching for the rest of these offenders since those suspects often change their names and move to live in other places to escape authorities,” Sovann said.

“In the past, our authorities have not gathered clear information about crime scenes, their tracing of mobile phones is slow and their monitoring of pawn shops, guesthouses and rental homes is not up to modern standards.”

Though applauding the call for action, a police insider said efforts to catch crooks were hamstrung by poor communication, particularly between police officers and court officials, and a lack of resources.

He suggested a well-funded dedicated team could make some headway on the fugitive backlog.

“Communication is one of the biggest hurdles; intelligence and information sharing is another issue, as is not having a modern policing database to be able to track these people,” they said.

“If the court is going to hand out all these notices for police to go and find these suspects, who’s going to fund that?”

In that vein, Russey Keo district deputy police chief Eav Chhun Kheng complained that scant funds made it difficult to travel and track down itinerant suspected felons. “To find and arrest offenders, it takes a lot of money; sometimes we pay money from our pocket, and often we’re not reimbursed by our unit,” he said.

Sen Sok district police chief Mak Hong echoed the sentiment, saying judicial police should do more to catch fugitives.

There are also doubts that police will target well-connected fugitives, such as Sila Ratanak, the daughter of government official wanted for the fatal hit-and-run of Irish national Thomas Beecher in Phnom Penh in 2014.

“Justice is not blind in Cambodia, it is connected to who you know, or who you don’t know,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Sovann said in 2015, there were 765 felony cases – 79 fewer than 2014 – which included 43 deaths and 192 people injured.

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