A group of expatriates in Pattaya have joined a network aimed at making the infamous city a better place to live and do business.
Crime Suppression Police talk to a group of foreign expatriates about crime in Pattaya. The expatriates agreed that jet ski scams run by mafia-like operators on Pattaya beach is the most critical issue for tourists.
Twelve of the network's 15 members, mostly business figures, met Crime Suppression Division (CSD) officers recently to discuss what one of them called the "cancerous" crime levels in the resort town.
Pattaya has struggled to shake off its image of crime and vice, much of which comes from foreign mafia groups based there.
The meeting of the expats and police was arranged by Pol Lt Col Natthapong Trongthieng, inspector of the CSD 2nd sub-division.
"We had to go to them or we wouldn't understand their problems. It's our job to serve not only Thais but foreign communities as well," he said.
He said many expats married locals and raised their families in Pattaya, so the police should listen to their problems.
Pol Lt Col Natthaphong said the idea of police meeting foreigners derives from the "Community Policing" concept initiated by Pol Lt Gen Pongpat Chayapan, commissioner of Central Investigation Bureau.
"It is part of the police's job to work with the community," Pol Lt Col Natthaphong said.
"There is not only a Thai community in Pattaya. Many foreigners also live with their Thai spouses there. It is our responsibility to listen to them," the inspector said.
So far, 15 foreigners have joined the network, including nationals from Denmark, France, Belgium and India.
The group has also invited Jusmag Thai, an American unit which takes care of US soldiers in Thailand, to get involved.
At the recent meeting, the expats identified the jetski scam run by mafia-like operators on Pattaya beach as the most critical issue for tourists, the police said.
In the scam, people who rent jetskis are forced to pay inflated sums for repairs when they return the craft.
The jetskis already have superficial damage before they are rented out, but the customers tend not to notice as the damage is usually on the underside of the craft, obscured by water.
Pol Lt Col Natthaphong said most of the victims want to avoid making further trouble with the gang, so they pay up instead of seeking help from the police.
The police said the problem has gone on for a long time and officers have struggled to find a practical solution.
Pol Lt Col Natthaphong said two jetski and speedboat operators in South Pattaya have been identified as members of extortion gangs.
"Foreigners are active in these gangs. They can speak many languages. We are now working to bring them to justice," the police said.
Pol Lt Col Natthaphong suggested the jetski scandal could be solved by compiling an operator list, separating the legal and illegal groups and collecting evidence to catch the perpetrators.
"The police work must be done step by step.
"Sudden enforcement may initially scare away the wrongdoers, but they will finally return to the business. We are trying to bring as many honest operators on to our side as possible," Pol Lt Col Natthaphong said.
Charun Pongwuthitham, a 48-year-old jetski operator who has run his business for more than 10 years, said he agreed with the foreign community's participation in helping to curb crime in Pattaya.
Mr Charun claimed some foreigners collaborated with jetski operators in extorting money from the tourists.
He agreed that a list of jetski operators needed to be drawn up and they should be required to insure their craft against damage.
The establishment of the foreigners' network is a good idea, said 64-year-old businessman Niels Colon, who participated in the talk with police.
It will encourage direct talks over problems and could lead to clear solutions, he said.
"Pattaya has many problems. There is still a language barrier between the police and foreigners. It is good that the police are now paying attention to these problems," he said.
Another foreign participant, who did not give his name, said problems may drive tourists away from Pattaya to the other resort areas.
That would have a negative effect on the city's businesses, he said.
He added that he and his friends in the network would deliver information about crimes to police in a bid to support the officers in enforcing the law.
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- Writer: Wassayos Ngamkham