New Beginning For Cambodian Police? Commissioner’s Strategic Vision Impresses

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¶1. (U) Summary: On December 11, DCM, RSO and Legat met with General
Neth Savoeun, new Commissioner General of the Cambodian National
Police. The DCM congratulated him on his recent appointment as the
nation’s senior law enforcement official, replacing the deceased Hok
Lundy (reftel). She also thanked him for the professional
collaboration between the Embassy and the police including
heightened support following recent events in Mumbai. Neth Savoeun
described a detailed, impressive and ambitious strategic vision,
which, if implemented, could change the way the police are viewed in
Cambodia. Top-most among his priorities for the national police of
approximately 50,000 officers are internal reforms, including
introducing the concept of community policing, and increasing the
capabilities of the nation’s border police. END SUMMARY.

Internal Reforms and Community Policing

¶2. (U) Without prompting, Neth Savoeun acknowledged the need for a
more disciplined approach to law enforcement. He outlined a plan
for carefully monitoring crime rates and deploying police resources
when and where they were needed, at the same time holding police at
the municipal and local level accountable for improvements in their
areas. He talked about rewarding positive behavior and censuring
poor performers, including police not showing up for work, failing
to enforce the law, or participating in corrupt behavior. He talked
of establishing an internal affairs unit to deal with misconduct and
said officers had been warned that removal, and even prosecution,
would be the price of misbehavior.

¶3. (U) Neth Savoeun openly acknowledged that police must end an era
of notorious misconduct. Touching on one of the more benign
problems, he said police in uniform not wearing helmets while on
their motorcycles undermined the government’s effort to introduce a
new traffic law. But, he did not shirk from discussing more serious
misconduct, repeatedly talking about corruption, intimidation,
gambling and failure to uphold the laws of the Kingdom. He asserted
that reducing incidences of police misconduct would encourage the
citizenry to trust, and cooperate with, the police, thus reducing
overall crimes rates.

¶4. (U) He went on to describe plans to introduce community policing,
a concept previously unknown in Cambodia. He spoke of installing
mailboxes at district and commune level police posts where citizens
could deposit suggestions, complaints or even accolades, as a means
of providing feedback on police performance. He even envisioned
police meeting face-to-face with citizens in their districts as an
effort to improve relations with communities and make police more
directly accountable. He clearly recognized the importance of
information-sharing between the police and the public. He also
described plans for a rewards system for members of the public who
provide information to the police resulting in arrests and
prosecutions. Acknowledging the risks such informants might face, he
said they would be provided police protection if needed.

Providing Secure Borders

¶5. (U) When discussing the border police, estimated to be 5,000
members, Neth Savoeun explained that the nation’s military had more
resources than the border police and likely more capabilities.
However, he stated that there was no truth to the rumor that the
military would absorb the border policing responsibilities. He
explained that the Prime Minister decided that the military would
continue to conduct military exercises and training in the border
areas, while the border police would continue to conduct all law
enforcement activities in those areas. He advised that the border
police were understaffed in many of the western provinces and, as a
result, recruitment efforts would have to be increased in those
provinces. He outlined a plan for training trainers in these border
regions and even admitted that Cambodia had requested assistance
from neighboring countries like Vietnam for additional border
security training programs. He expressed a desire for U.S. training
assistance in this area as well.

Drugs, Gambling And Gangs

¶6. (U) Neth Savoeun cited the problems of drug addiction, gambling
and gang activity as major causes of increased crime in the nation.
He asserted that more drug rehabilitation centers were needed in
order to effectively treat the nation’s drug addiction problem. He
requested U.S. assistance in this area, but mainly in the form of
funding for the construction of a facility on land already set aside

by the government for a rehabilitation center. The DCM noted that
rehabilitating the drug addicted is a challenging undertaking which
requires psychological and medical understanding, but undertook to
look at how USG programs might inform the CNP effort.

¶7. (U) Neth Savoeun advised that following consultations with the
Prime Minister, he had a mandate to strictly enforce the
government’s gambling laws (Cambodians are not allowed to frequent
gambling establishments, they are for foreigners only) — which up
to this point have not been enforced. He anticipates receiving
complaints from the owners of gambling establishments, but said the
benefits of the enforcement far outweigh the consequences of
inaction. In regards to the gang problem in Cambodia, Neth Savoeun
advised that his office is studying the U.S. model on anti-gang
legislation and enforcement. He explained that with the current
lack of anti-gang legislation in Cambodia, suspected gang members
are often released after the maximum 48-hour holding period. Of the
600 suspected gang members who were arrested in 2007, only 50
actually faced criminal charges. Neth Savoeun would like to send a
delegation to the U.S. to study the U.S. response to the gang
problem in detail.


¶8. (U) According to Neth Savoeun there are approximately 7,000
fugitives in Cambodia. Neth Savoeun opined that the majority of the
7,000 wanted persons continue to commit crimes due to the fact that
they have not been apprehended. Neth Savouen plans to use wanted
posters similar to the FBI TOP TEN FUGITIVES and the media in an
effort to apprehend these fugitives.


¶9. (SBU) A member of the government’s leading task force on
anti-trafficking, Neth Savoeun has a good reputation among elements
of the Embassy who have dealt with him in the past. It is clear
that he takes his new responsibilities seriously – he said he’d
hardly slept since assuming command, as there was so much to do.
Savoeun briefed Emboffs speaking from a three-page, handwritten
outline which we know he also has used as a basis for organized
briefings to his senior staff and provincial police chiefs, who he
has summoned into the capital. His vision has been informed by
advice provided by a staff member who received training in the US
and another who previously served on the NYPD. A nephew by marriage
to the Prime Minister, Neth Savoeun seems to recognize that he will
need significant political support to reform; he regularly referred
to consulting with both Prime Minister Hun Sen and Sar Kheng, Deputy
Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior. Neth Savouen’s ideas
are comprehensive and ambitious; many, if not all, will encounter
entrenched opposition in a system which has not heretofore operated
on merit or punished poor performers.