Mixing It Up with the Green Baggies (Police)
Mixing It Up with the Green Baggies (Police) Reviews
Minimising the consequences of encounters with the police Mar 06, 2009
In VietNam the various levels of governments use the police for anything from actually maintaining the peace to traffic control (have your wallet ready), from hotel inspection to crane inspection and from pollution control to property occupation control. Oh, and the fire service.
Likely the police represent the largest single government organisation in the country - possibly larger than the military.
The police wear baggy, greenish uniforms with red epaulets. The difference between police and the fire department types is whilst they both have the same tailor and even have red epaulets, the firemen and women don't have gold insignia, stars and bars, on their shoulders.
The concept of search or arrest warrants are flights of fancy in VietNam; if the police want in, or they want you, they will achieve their goal with the minimum of paperwork.
Most visitors to VietNam meet the police, often before they arrive, as your visa is subject to their approval! Checking into a hotel will be registered with them around 22.30 hours each evening when thousands of motorcycles descend on police stations throughout the country, except in a few jurisdictions that complete the task by InterNet, carrying hotel registers which are stamped and a copy kept by the police.
In some jurisdictions the provincial Peoples Committee, the most senior level of government in a province, such as Lao Cai, has dictated that the passports will be produced to police along with the register. Strictly speaking no valid visa or ID card means no room. In SaiGon these register copies are tossed into large boxes where they reside whilst they slowly, very slowly, make their way to a computer terminal where they are entered into the governments all-knowing computer systems. In smaller destinations this information is entered within days.
If you rent, or purchase, property, the Green Baggies actually approve your occupation, and money paid - as the government has some guidelines on how much you should pay. These rates are reviewed annually.
Another occasion for making their acquaintance involves traffic offences and accidents. These represent opportunities for you to contribute to the officers wealth, note we are talking about the Green Baggies and NOT the more smartly attired traffic police whose uniforms and an attractive sand colour. In Hue they also have some sort of Blue Baggies involved with road policing.
The worst occasion is where you commit a violation of the criminal statutes. There are less formal infractions, or misdemeanors, such as drinking or fighting and the more serious involving serious bodily harm, murder, pedophilia, rape, etc. Other countries might refer to these as indictable offences.
In theory, the police are required to notify the nearest consulate or embassy of the country whose passport you hold of your arrest and the nature of the offence. The police have a more practical approach - they will only make contact in case of an indictable offence OR when the arrestee requests it.
Such contact necessitates the involvement of other government departments and the police are loath to do this unless really required. To demonstrate their unhappiness where an arrestee requests it, there is a good likelihood that (s)he will remain in custody and the seriousness of the charge increased. Detention in prison will cause the authorities to supply you with ill-fitting black and white striped clothing. Unless there is a very good reason to request diplomatic assistance, go with the flow; you can always request assistance later. Remember diplomats are very conservative by nature and offer little practical help. Especially where drugs are concerned. The U.S. DEA and Australian police have representative offices in VietNam.
Less serious offences are dealt with in ways that are often unusual to Westerners. Since most police don't admit to speaking English they will either secure a 'translator' in the form of a employee from your hotel, who has a minim of English, or request that you produce a friend who is bilingual (one language of which is Vietnamese). NEVER admit to knowing Vietnamese!
The 'investigation', if a misdemeanor, takes place at one of the ward police shops. There is a minimal 'investigation' involving Third Party witnesses - many of whom volunteer to help in return for a fee.
These are my experiences involving a friend who was silly enough to be the victim of a failed robbery attempt and resist the theft.
All parties relating to a complaint sit together in a room that adjoined the front office. There were several groups in this room and they were dealt with in a random manner. One 'investigation' I witnessed comprised the 'investigating' officer writing out a confession and browbeating the 'guilty' party in to signing it. This youth, along with many of his age, regard the police with disdain and refused to sign. The policeman then produced an impressive looking piece of steel from his drawer and quickly whacked the youth on the side of the head. Losing control of himself the young victim laughed and was rewarded with a somewhat heavier whack of the steel bar.
This was done in the presence, and full view, of about 12 civilians two of which were from Hong Kong. Their faces spoke volumes. The police are not intimidated by witnesses to their behavior.
This youth spoke surprisingly fluent English and he expressed his thoughts of his treatment to the captive audience and said they should not sign anything! This standoff continued for some 10 minutes at which time the policeman had the disrespectful youth removed to the adjoining lock-up to consider his options.
The Hong Kong couple were dealt with quickly. Seemingly a motorcyclist had run over the mans foot and had comfortingly put his hand over the mans back using this to hide the fact that he was also pickpocketing the Chinese man.
My friend was attacked by a man and a woman as they had likely seen him with sizable bank notes, foolish him, and they went for his jacket pockets and those likely ones of his pants. He was wearing Tilley pants (trousers) and had secreted his money in the famous "hidden pocket".
The people on the sidealk simply looked at the three of them having at each other. As is often the case in other countries, no one offered to help. My friend tore the woman's top and broke her bra, revealing her breasts, which quickly put her out of action. The man continued but was unable to achieve his goal.
At this point in time a pair of police neighbourhood watch types ran up and clubbed the man and held all three for a vehicle to pick them up. They were taken to the ward police shop.
During the wait for the vehicle various 'witnesses' made themselves known and that they were available for a fee. A couple were contracted by the thieves and they dutifully appeared at the police shop.
Fortunately for my friend, the Vietnamese pair of thieves were already known to the police so they were assumed to be guilty. My friend, the victim of attempted theft and woman's top ripper was charged with the misdemeanor of causing a disturbance!
The police allowed him to make several telephone calls on his cell, one of which was to me.
Meanwhile, notwithstanding the fact that my friend didn't speak Vietnamese and the police didn't speak English, prepared statements for the three to sign. The Vietnamese offenders signed, and since they had no money to pay a fine, were removed to jail.
My friend was asked to sign this confession or statement and I advise him NOT to sign but rather use the words "IDoNotUnderstand" as a signature. This false signature satisfied the police and they fined him 750,000 Dong - about $50 - for disturbing the peace by fighting in the street. Thirty minutes after paying a bank receipt was given to him to prove the money was kept by the government and not the police.
Seemingly there are two scales of fines; one for (poor) Vietnamese and another for rich foreigners.
A notice given to my friend indicated that the file would be retained end of the following year and it would be destroyed if he was not in any other trouble.
With this the police should everyone's hands and we departed.
So remember (1) You will likely always be "guilty"; (2) The police are too busy to really bother to investigate misdemeanors; (3) Always pretend you do not understand anything they say or do; (4) Never sign your real name to anything!
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