Residents of Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, and Siem Reap will find themselves faced with the occasional threat of crime, as in any urban major urban centre. While violent crime against foreigners is low compared to other parts of Asia, foreign tourists and visitors will find they can become frequent targets of opportunity theft. Persistent economic inequality is the main reason for crime, as Cambodia pays one of the lowest minimum wages in Southeast Asia.
Other societal problems like homelessness and drug abuse make many would-be culprits open to situational crime, which means that if they see something that can be stolen they will take advantage of it. The most common criminal in Cambodia is the “common day opportunist criminal”, in the words of Alan McCune, Country Manager at G4S Cambodia. However, taking basic precautions and remaining vigilant on the street can help to prevent unwanted attention or criminal activity.
Avoid opportunity theft
Leaving your motorbike unattended or parked on the street, using a cellphone at a busy intersection, or walking alone late at night on a dark street can all lead to an opportunistic theft or mugging. “In Phnom Penh, the real dangers occur at night after 10 pm. Most of the crime is locals against locals. The risk of being robbed increases at night when travelling alone,” says John Muller, Managing Director at Global Security Solutions Cambodia.
While most violent crime in the Kingdom is also between Cambodians, things can also turn ugly for foreign victims, particularly if they are dragged as someone tries to grab their bag or are pushed off of a moving motorbike. Urban residents should always be vigilant of their personal belongings, advises McCune.
“My number one tip is to keep common sense around you,” says McCune. “Practice vigilance. It’s the quickest thing we seem to forget, as we take things for granted at times and become complacent. But in Phnom Penh, always be aware.”
The same is true for vehicles like motorbikes, says McCune. After several months in the Kingdom, many foreigners may find it convenient to purchase a motorbike or car, which improves their ease of movement but also leaves them open to more opportunities for theft
“Moto theft is high,” says McCune, although he says sometimes thieves will instead steal valuable parts off a vehicle or a helmet resting on it rather than the entire vehicle. This can be avoided by never leaving a bag, valuables, or helmet on an unattended motorbike, and by parking at designated lots with attendants, which conveniently accompany large businesses and restaurants.
How to protect your business
Due to the high crime rate, there are already a number of mechanisms in place to protect homes and businesses. Most buildings, for example, are designed with bars on the window, and external fences or gates to keep out unwelcome visitors. While these deter crime, they can be problematic in the case of fire, so be sure to have a plan in place in case this occurs. Keep fire extinguishers and fire blankets on the premises, which can be purchased at speciality stores in the capital, as fire trucks can be slow coming in the event of an emergency. It may also be advisable to install a sprinkler system.
Depending on whether you are renting an office or stand-alone building, be sure that it first undergoes a risk analysis by security professionals. Consider installing an electronic surveillance system, replacing key locks with fingerprint readers or proximity guards, and also purchase a home alarm system with a tamper-proof high decibel siren.
“Surprisingly, ESS [electronic security service] items such as CCTV, patrol devices, tracking systems are more affordable and better in quality than ever before. Technology is now available that enhances the overall day-to-day security of your business,” says McCune.
Muller also gives similar advice: Install CCTV Cameras to monitor high density traffic areas, car parks, access points, and the location of high-value property.”
Both also recommend hiring a reputable security company to monitor your office or warehouse at night. Many apartment buildings in Phnom Penh employ night guards to watch the premises but if renting an entire building or stand-alone house, consider also hiring nighttime guards for your home.
“Choose a quality or security provider carefully,” says McCune. “It’s not always about cost.” G4S Cambodia, for example, spends a minimum of five days training and assessing security guards with their specially-designed training module. Always look into the background and ratings of a security company before hiring them.
Working with the police and justice system
In the event of a theft or an incident, be aware ahead of time that police have extremely limited resources and in many cases will ask for an “unofficial payment” to speed up the process, for example, if a police report is needed to file an insurance claim. The fire department also has limited resources, so be sure to have a plan in place in case of a fire.
Despite the limitations of the police and fire department, Muller advises cultivating a relationship with the local fire warden and the local police chief by inviting them for lunch at least twice a year. Once they are aware of your situation and familiar with your business, they may be more inclined to help when a real crisis arises.
Risk of travel
One of the most dangerous times in the Kingdom is when you and your employees are travelling to work, as an imperfect traffic system allows many drivers to speed through red lights or down one way streets. Traffic accidents are a major source of death and injury in the Kingdom, so if you must ride a motorbike, buy a sturdy helmet and follow traffic laws as you learned them in your home country. Otherwise, it is recommended to travel by car or taxi if it fits into the budget. Several Chinese-run metre cab companies will come to pick you up at your door and offer rates comparable to tuk-tuks, but with much more security and comfort. When driving between cities, says Muller, it is best to drive during the day, as many suburban and rural roads are poorly maintained and it is easier to see their problems at full light.
While living in Cambodia has its share of dangers, and also adventures, the country has come a long way in improving its security situation. The best advice to follow is to always be vigilant: always be aware you are in a developing country, where many people might look at you or your positions as an easy way to get cash. But following common sense steps, with a little help from electronics and a professional security team, will ensure your business and employees are protected.