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
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
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,
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
"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."