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The Police

Police functions, such as routine crime detection, apprehension of suspects, and enforcement of judicial orders, were vested in two elements that differed both conceptually and functionally. The PSF was a law enforcement agency in the same sense as the term is used in the West. It operated chiefly in urban rather than in rural areas and was first established in 1962. Its purpose was "to execute the laws of the state, maintain public order and security, protect public property, protect the lives and property of individuals, and prevent juvenile delinquency." These functions were expanded and made more specific in 1972, and again in 1976, by National Assembly directives authorizing the PSF to "arrest, temporarily detain, and temporarily release suspects; search people, homes, belongings, and mail; temporarily hold evidence; issue identification certificates, travel permits, and other documents; motivate citizens to observe the law and security measures; stop acts of sabotage; prevent juvenile delinquency; give aid to victims of accidents, including commandeering transportation to perform this function; and punish or carry out other compulsory measures against those who infringe on public order and security regulations." Fire fighting was also administered by the PSF. Members of the PSF were admonished to "serve the people wholeheartedly, show bravery, and constantly demonstrate responsibility, revolutionary vigilance, and political and military professionalism."

The second unit was the PASF, a combination of gendarmerie and police field force, which operated chiefly in the villages and rural areas. The PASF had a broader security function than the PSF, since its concern extended beyond criminal and illegal political activity to insurgency threats and transprovincial organized counterrevolutionary activity. It was a hybrid security institution composed of party security cadres and PAVN personnel whose duties were in a gray area between ordinary police work and guerrilla warfare. The PASF was similar to the militia of the Soviet Union, with a domain described as "inland security," and functioned both as a protective and investigative body. PASF units guarded defense-industry installations, state and party offices, communication facilities, and important economic centers and supplied bodyguards for high-level officials. It was also charged with handling antigovernment conspiracies requiring sensitive political investigations and with investigating intraprovincial crimes such as counterfeiting, smuggling, and hijacking.

PASF was created in March 1959 by combining several small party- security and PAVN special units. From the start it had a semimilitary character. In 1960, the Third National Party Congress assigned it the "leading mission of defense against counterrevolution" and stressed the political character of its work, which in part meant activities designed to make security measures more acceptable to the general public through what was termed PASF's "people-motivating mission." Its formation also relieved PAVN regular forces of certain border and coastal static-defense duties. In the decade that followed unification in 1976, it became something of a catch-all security institution.

The structure of the PASF was quasi-military--that is, it was organized by battalions and companies with administrative centers in provincial capitals. In 1987 the PASF was estimated to have at least 500 personnel in each province, with a total strength of at least 21,000. It was more heavily armed and more mobile than ordinary police.

The PASF headquarters in Hanoi was in a Ministry of Interior building, once the Don Thuy French Military Barracks on Hang Bai Street. It was divided into eight bureaus. The first handled administration, including personnel, supply, and housing. The second maintained criminal records and handled correspondence. The third was responsible for the Hanoi capital area and supervised crime detection, fire fighting, traffic control and issuance of identity cards. The fourth conducted investigations, including interrogations. The fifth handled incarceration of persons under arrest, including their detention while awaiting trial. The sixth controlled political and indoctrination training, as well as internal police affairs. The seventh handled budget and fiscal matters for the organization, and the eighth managed communication surveillance, censored mail, and controlled unauthorized publications.

PAVN's function is dual in nature, having been derived from the French concept of police duty, introduced in the colonial period, and the Soviet Union's idea of militia. It rests on the belief that all challenges to the regime should be treated as law-enforcement rather than military problems. Even in the suppression of insurgency movements such as FULRO, PAVN's responsibilities were carried out as an exercise in law enforcement rather than as a military enterprise.

PAVN shared command responsibilities with the Ministry of Interior over a host of specific police organizations, including Regional Police Force units operating out of the country's forty provincial capitals; the Border-Control Police or Port-of-Entry Police, established by the Ministry of Interior in 1981; and Naval Security units, which used armed civilian fishing boats to apprehend persons illegally leaving the country. In theory, all such organizations functioned under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Interior. Their place in PAVN's organizational structure, however, remained ambiguous.

Deputized, nonprofessional law-enforcement units were reportedly numerous, but they were only vaguely described in press reports. They included the People's Protection Squads (active in both street-patrol work and fire fighting), the Enterprise Protection Force (active in factories, government buildings, and communes), the Municipal Security Protection Force (active in major cities), the Neighborhood Protection Civil Guard Agency, the Capital Security Youth Assault Units, the Township Public Security Force, and the Civil Defense Force. Many of the personnel in these units served concurrently with the Paramilitary Force.

In addition, PAVN elements were detailed to police duty, usually on a temporary basis, and assigned chiefly in the South and along the China border. Their primary responsibilities in these areas were the prevention of smuggling and of illegal departures or entries.

The Ministry of Interior divided Vietnam into "security interzones," and the major cities--Hanoi, Haiphong, and Ho Chi Minh City--were allotted separate security status. The interzone headquarters coordinated law enforcement and internal security work with the judiciary, local military commanders, and provincial party officials. Each of the interzone directors (as well as the director of the Hanoi Security Service) reported directly to the Ministry of Interior and the Political Bureau Secretariat.

The villages, which normally experienced little crime, had only rudimentary law enforcement, usually in the hands of a deputized nonprofessional working part-time and often without a regular salary. If a major crime occurred--for example, a murder- -it was investigated by an official sent from the provincial capital.

The function of the nonprofessional deputized law-enforcement officer, indeed even his existence, was not formally established or codified. The position of the village deputy was conceived as a means by which local authority could organize the village to police itself. Crime prevention and security became the responsibility of all, under the guidance of a local figure backed by the local party committee. This made for a pervasive surveillance system. It could also result in inept law enforcement and the accruing of enormous power by the deputy, who was privy to information gathered through the surveillance system.

Data as of December 1987

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