For all the disparaging comments that the police receive (and admittedly often deserve),
I would like to offer a counterexample that proves that there are police officers
in the Kingdom of Cambodia who are dedicated to ensuring that justice is swiftly
On Thursday, April 4, 2003, I was assaulted in a bar in Sihanoukville. At 2:00 pm
on Friday, I arrived at the police station to report the previous evening's happenings.
By 4:00 p.m, the officer in charge, Tesh Chanthorn, asked pertinent and pointed questions
about the events of the night before, translated it into Khmer for the police reports,
and read it back to me (translated again into excellent English) for accuracy of
detail, completeness, and general timbre.
Considering how little Khmer I know and the many pitfalls this language barrier could
have presented, the thoroughness and hard work of Officer Tesh and his transcriber
was impressive and much appreciated.
We requested that the police hand in the summons for my assailant's court appearance
that very afternoon. Officer Tesh explained the pros and cons of the issue and recommended
that we do so the next morning instead. But he asked his superior anyway, though
he didn't agree with it. He was shot down. So we agreed to meet the next morning
at 8:00 am.
Once the accused was retrieved from his guesthouse and brought to the Department
of Criminal Activity , Officer Tesh and his colleagues worked with the defendant
for a good three hours before calling me in to negotiate. Obviously, as I was not
allowed to be present, I cannot speak for the goings-on in there, but I take the
length of time it took to indicate that he gave the guy a good long chance to tell
his side of the story.
We were then both called in to negotiate. Officer Tesh was fair and impartial. He
explained that part of the agreement is that we are not only to refrain from fighting
but also to abstain from exchanging harsh words ever again. If we do exchange not-so-pleasantries,
it will negatively affect the outcome of any future case, and indeed a case could
be brought against either party for arguing at all. This, like the attempt to settle
out of court in the first place, is to quell unnecessary court costs and discourage
us from wasting time and money.
He explained all this to us both clearly and slowly, highlighting the importance
of the matter being settled on the spot. Lastly, he encouraged the other guy to prosecute
another man with regards to an injury incurred that same night, in another unrelated
incident. His logic for this was: Better to get it over and done with than to harbor
resentments. Officer Tesh's clarifications of the reasons behind the protocol put
my mind at ease that I was taking the most effective course of action.
The negotiations took place on a Saturday. Officer Tesh's working week ends on Friday.
Speaking with him on my way out the door, he mentioned that he goes home to his family
in Phnom Penh on Saturdays. He gave up the chance to do so in order to get this case
settled as soon as possible. He was not hurried in carrying out his duties; it was
his suggestion that we wait until the next morning to deliver the summons, meaning
that he promoted carrying out a course of action that would be more effective, though
it meant giving up a Saturday with his family.
So the Khmer coppers aren't all bad. They have a pretty hard job to do, especially
in conflicts between barangs, and they don't get much compensation for it. Admittedly,
some of them handle that job with less care and rigor. But I was right impressed
with the way that the whole affair was handled, from start to finish. This guy is