Although Phuket police say there have been no more bag snatches in the Phuket Town area than usual, people are being encouraged to be careful after three recent robberies in the area.
At least eight robberies have been reported in Phuket Town this year.
One of these was on January 4 this year when a Phuket woman riding pillion on a motorbike had a gold necklace snatched from around her neck on Songkhla Rd.
Natthawut “Boy” Wannakul was later arrested for the crime – he drove past the victim, grabbing her necklace as he went by. Police used CCTV footage to find and arrest him.
In another case on January 7, police tracked down in only three hours the man responsible for grabbing a tourist’s iPhone from his hand as he walked down Thalang Rd around 2 am.
Montree ”Go” Muhe, 22, was arrested and the iPhone was returned to German tourist David Trebs before he returned home to Germany.
Mr Trebs has since sent a letter to Phuket police thanking them for their swift work.
The most recent bag snatching incident was on Sunday evening (February 10). A foreigner living in Phuket had her hand bag snatched by a motorbike rider around 11pm on Thalang Rd. The investigation is continuing.
Phuket Town Police superintendent Pol Col Siempan Sirikong and investigator Pol Col Sien Keawthong both agreed there had been no more robbery crimes than usual this year. They did not believe a gang was involved, and said all were individual cases.
Pol Col Sien Keawthong said that so far in 2013, he knew of four or five people who had been arrested for various robberies in Phuket Town. Most of the criminals were teenagers, or people from troubled or impoverished backgrounds. All were Phuket residents, he said.
“These four or five people who were arrested under my watch were not connected to each other. They had no plans to do such a crime, they robbed spontaneously. The ones on motorbikes – they would see a person with a bag, and they would just go for it,” he told The Phuket News.
Meanwhile, Col Siempan said robbery criminals were usually between 15 and 35 years of age, and sometimes even secondary school students.
One teenager Pol Col Siempan mentioned was facing many charges relating to various robberies of the same nature.
“He was troubled – he wasn’t being cared for by his parents and family, and he was committing many crimes.”
Col Siempan said a few months ago police introduced plain-clothes officers to patrol the Phuket Town area to improve safety. There were also check points set up around the town, and these would move every 30 minutes, he said.
Every week the police would hold a meeting to discuss the results of the checkpoints, and who the policemen should be keeping an eye out for.
Col Sien said the victims were not exclusively tourists and foreigners; victims were often Thai people.
“I want to advise people, please, don't hang your bag from your shoulder or in a way that would attract attention,” Col Sien said.
Bags hanging over shoulders were easy targets, as were bags placed in motorbike baskets.
He also advised caution when carrying your bag, and to avoid drawing attention to it.
“Criminals will snatch bags if there are easy opportunities to do so,” he said.
In August last year two Thai men were sentenced to death for the fatal stabbing of Australian travel agent Michelle Smith. Their sentences were commuted to life after they pleaded guilty.
Mrs Smith was stabbed in the evening of June 20 during a botched bag-snatching as she and fellow travel agent Tammee Lynn walked back from dinner to their resort, the Katathani in Kata Noi.
Around 100 metres from the resort, Thais Surin Suwannachote and Surasak Tadtong stopped next to them on a motorbike and Surasak tried to garb Mrs Smith’s handbag. She clung on to it, so Surasak got off the bike and swung a large knife, slashing her in the chest. She died minutes later.