How to Identify the Different Police in Vietnam

By: Sivaraj Pragasm

One of the first things a newcomer to Vietnam will notice is the number of police officers around the country. They’re dressed in various colours ranging from blue, tan to green with various kinds of headgear, badges and epaulettes dealing with issues from traffic flow management to work-permit registration to riot control situations so it is normal to get confused trying to understand who they are and what they specialise in.

I, too, had the same problem when I first got here. Whenever I saw a policeman on the street, I resisted the urge to grab the nearest local person, point towards the officer and ask him what “that uniformed man in dark green” is supposed to be? But I figured it would not be the best idea so I decided on an alternative. After some searching, I found out for myself what the various forces are, how to identify them and what exactly they do.

Here are the three most common police forces in Vietnam that you might encounter, how you can tell them apart and what exactly they do.

Let’s start with the most visible one.

Traffic Police (Canh Sat Giao Thong)

Whether you’re riding a bike whizzing around a busy roundabout or sitting comfortably in a taxi with bikes darting past you, you may have noticed an officer or two in tan uniforms wearing similarly coloured helmets labelled ‘CGST’ directing the flow of traffic. These are the traffic police who are under the jurisdiction of both the People’s Public Security Force and the Ministry of Transport.

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They deal exclusively in matters pertaining to traffic safety, which include traffic law enforcement and facilitating traffic flow.

Do take note that all traffic police officers are required to display their blue ID cards on their chest, which contains information such as their name, rank, department and police identification number. This allows the public to know who they are and, should the need arise, to provide feedback to a higher authority.

Public Security Force (Cong an Nhan dan)

The second most common force you will encounter is the Public Security Force officers, who wear a distinct pine-green uniform which includes a green and red cap. This force is the biggest of the three, manpower-wise, and deals directly with the population in various administrative levels structured in a “ward-district-city” hierarchy system with the ward-level being the lowest and the most easily-accessible precinct for residents and the district and city-level precincts for more complicated cases within their respective jurisdictions.

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They deal with the various aspects of civilian life from household and transportation registrations to criminal background checks to work-permit licensing. Their job also includes dealing with complaints, warnings and crime reports from citizens, and they also have the authority to handle civil and penal prosecution.

For foreigners living in Vietnam who are required to register their residency, this is the force that handles your registration. They are generally friendly and helpful, and it would be a good idea to get to know them better, especially if you’re living in an area with few foreigners or if you’re just generally feeling unsafe at some point.

Mobile Police Force (Canh Sat Co Dong)

Also known as the “CSCD”, they are a new addition to Vietnam’s police force, created due to an initiative by the authorities in response to rising crime levels and a rising threat of terrorism. They are also the most intimidating-looking force with their all-black uniforms, CSCD helmets, bullet-proof body armour, riot shields and ubiquitous assault rifles.

While under the jurisdiction of the People’s Public Security Force, their operating procedures are slightly similar to the army’s. Operating in a militaristic structure, you won’t see them patrolling the streets. And unlike the Public Security Force officers, they specialise in planned missions against organised crime and time-sensitive cases like the kidnapping of public officials and terrorist attacks.

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The CSCD is the only force that has the authority to perform spot-checks for contraband or dangerous items on individuals and their property without a warrant, and they are allowed to use lethal force if necessary. Do comply with them if you ever encounter them.

The Others

The less common forces which you may also encounter are youth volunteers, who are dressed in dark green uniforms with green ball caps and who generally aid in marshalling duties for vehicular and human traffic.

Private security forces, who usually wear light blue shirts and dark pants with black ball caps, guard buildings and shops. Traffic inspectors wear blue shirts with a black peaked cap and look out for parking and vehicular violations.

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