“Hello. Yes this is Long. What happened to you? Okay stay calm. We’re on our way.”
Lam Hieu Long, and other members of the Ho Chi Minh city “Robber hunters” squad, known as SBC team, are always ready to go out to help robbery victims everyday for the last over 10 years.
The age range of the team members is far different. The oldest is in more than 30 and the youngest was born in 1996. Despite age difference, they all want to help others during their time of hardship. Long said: “I volunteer to do this. I feel discontented with the current situation of thieving and robbery on the street. When seeing a suspect on the street, who is showing signs of about committing a crime, I can’t turn away but have to follow them to prevent a possible robbery.”
Purely voluntary, expecting no reward, these vigilantes have been given the nickname “Street knights” by the people. All preparations for the job are at their account. Everyday, Long and his teammates train self defense skills and increase their physical ability at parks or local gyms. Cameras are installed on motorbikes or helmets to capture crime evidence. Long invented a type of plastic handcuff to control criminals after catching them on the street, before handing them over to the police.
“These skills will help us control criminals, protect ourselves and other people. Robbers are very daring. They can take anybody on the street as hostages”, said Long
| Lam Hieu Long (wearing helmet, brown jacket) catch a robber on the street (Photo: dantri.com.vn)
When asked whether they are, at any time, afraid of doing this job, Nguyen Thanh Phu, a member of the SBC team, said: “Of course yes. We are afraid that the criminals may harm us or hurt other people on the street. But our team always stands side by side. Sometimes we can not catch the criminals. We hope to show the community that there are still good people around us.”
Being loved by the people and respected by the authorities, but SBC members are not always supported by their family. Do Thanh Long, a senior member of the team, said: “When doing this job, nobody among us is supported by their families. But this work is our passion. Whenever we see unjust things or crimes on the street, we will try to do do something.”
Over the past few years, Lam Hieu Long and his teammates have handled hundreds of cases, saving hundreds of victims and their property. Nguyen Ngoc Quynh Chau from Tan Binh district is one of them. Her phone was robbed while she was walking on the street.
Quynh Chau recalls, it was around 8 pm. She was talking on the phone. Out of nowhere, there were 2 guys, riding a motorbike, snatched her phone and ran away. She was shocked, fell down on the street, her arms scratched. Lam Hieu Long and his team were there for help. They caught the robbers and brought them to the police. Quynh Chau said:
“Right after the incident happened, I saw 4 men on 2 motorbikes chasing the robbers. A while later, Mr. Long came to see me and told me to go to the ward police station. When I arrived there, the robbers were already captured and were sitting there.”
Luckily for Chau, at that time, Long and the team were patrolling in the area and saw the incident. Thanks to the team’s courage and prompt action, her phone was returned to her just a few minutes after it was taken. She said: “I really admire street knights like Long and his team. They are so devoted and heroic. I want to express my sincere thanks to them. I wish them good health and safety in their job.”
During 10 years of operation, Lam Hieu Long and his team have received over 100 certificates of merit for their contribution to local security, given by the district’s police department.
For hundreds of years, in the minds of most Vietnamese people, especially in the South, there has been an ideal of chivalry. Rich or poor, intellectuals or workers, they all aim for the ideal of living wholeheartedly devoted to righteousness. That spirit is reflected in what teams of “Street knights”, better known as “SBC”, in Vietnam’s southern provinces have done. According to the Binh Duong police department, from 1997 to 2018, SBC groups captured more than 2,000 criminals. In Ho Chi Minh city, hundreds of cases were solved.
| Lam Hieu Long (wearing helmet, bright jacket) catch a robber on the street
Over the past few years, their great contribution to maintaining public security has gained SBC teams recognition from the public and authorities.
“They are brave men. They are ready to sacrifice their lives to help a total stranger.”
“They have done things for which the society is grateful. Of course we have our security forces, but distant water can not quell a nearby fire.”
SBC teams work without regulations, tools, budget, training, or management. Dangers are everywhere on the street, and when misfortune happens, they must handle it on their own. Injury or even death is a risk when chasing robbers at high speed. However, with hearts full of courage and a desire for justice, these people do not back down. Although fully aware of the risk and the possibility of permanent injury, they persist on the road of righteousness. This engenders in people a great feeling of gratitude mixed with concern.
Brigadier Phan Anh Minh, Deputy Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Police Department, says the SBC model needs to be recognized by law. He said: “For the last 2 years, we have been working on a comprehensive set of regulations for the Street Knights’ operation. They need to be recognized, trained, and better equipped with knowledge of the law to know what they can and cannot do.”
According to Doan Van Bau, a criminal psychologist, each team should have their own operational regulations.
“SBC teams should register their operation with local police departments. They should build operational regulations to which their members adhere. Most importantly, they must be trained in skills to detect crimes and skills to handle difficult situations when confronting criminals. Authorities should consider insuring them”, said Bau.
In October 2019, the SBC team in Tan Binh district, Ho Chi Minh City, received 6 radios worth nearly 500 USD from two local families to support their street patrols. According to captain Tran Van Hoang, the biggest difficulty for SBC members during a chase is a lack of radio communication about the direction the criminals are going. Armed with radios, their work is more effective.
Many people think that catching criminals is the job of the police and what the “Street knights” are doing is unnecessary, needlessly putting themselves in danger. While doing the right thing and standing up to wrongdoing is noble, many families wouldn’t want their loved ones to risk their lives in the defense of principle.
But still, with the spirit of justice in their hearts, Lam Hieu Long and hundreds of other members of street crime prevention teams will continue their job of protecting the streets. They are an extension of the official public security forces and can be thought of as a yellow light, which will not stop but may make criminals slow down.