Blood, sweat, and tears: Stories behind catching drug dealers

August 23, 2022 - 08:30
The fight against drugs has claimed the lives of 27 police officers, soldiers and brave citizens while hundreds of officers have been injured and exposed to HIV while on duty.
Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Đức Đam present the First Feat Order to the Counter Narcotics Police Department on their 25th anniversary. — Photo VGP

HÀ NỘI — The lives of anti-drug police officers are filled with undercover assignments and executing warrants. The fight against drugs never ends.

Some officers have paid the ultimate price, sacrificing their lives in the line of duty, the Government's online newspaper reported.

Bloodshed in peacetime

The fight against drugs has claimed the lives of 27 police officers, soldiers and brave citizens while hundreds of officers have been injured and exposed to HIV while on duty.

Of the officers who have given their lives to the cause, some have become martyrs when they are still young. Phạm Văn Cường, Bùi Quốc Đại, Sùng A Trư, Sầm Quốc Nghĩa, Vi Văn Luân are just a few examples of brave young soldiers honoured in the hall of the Counter Narcotics Police Department (CNPD)'s headquarters in Hà Nội.

The remembrance wall now have one more name added to it: Lieutenant Sầm Quốc Nghĩa of Quế Phong Police in Nghệ An.

In March 2020, after receiving information from the public about a group of Laotians who illegally crossed the border to traffic drugs into Nậm Giải Commune in Quế Phong District, the district's police immediately sent eight officers to pursue and arrest the individuals.

As one of the most prolific anti-drug officer in Quế Phong Police, with a vast knowledge of the region, Lieutenant Nghĩa went headfirst to the suspected area to face the suspects.

Although Nghĩa brought down one of the gang, another popped out of nowhere and stabbed Nghĩa multiple times in the body before making off with his accomplice. Nghĩa continued the pursuit, still gravely wounded and signalled his teammates to come help.

When the other officer arrived however, it was too late. The two suspects were long gone, with the knife used to stab Nghĩa left behind. The young lieutenant was quickly sent to the hospital, but succumbed to his wounds and passed away.

Another story of bravery is from Colonel Vũ Văn Dưỡng of Division 3, CNPD. Colonel Dưỡng was wounded in pursuit of the dangerous fugitive Lý A Di in September 2005 at Na Ư, Điện Biên Province.

When pursuing Di on a motorbike, Dưỡng was rammed by Di and lost control of his vehicle, eventually falling into a gorge. He was unconscious for several days, and when Dưỡng woke up, his body was immobilised in a hospital room.

Dưỡng's right leg was badly wounded and needed a knee orthosis operation. It took him two years to walk normally again.

After recovery, Dưỡng soon returned to the office and continued his battle against drug lords, such as the notorious Tráng A Tàng, a.k.a. "Tàng Keangnam"; or death sentence escapee Nguyễn Văn Tình. Recently, Dưỡng and his teammates arrested a group that were trying to sell 138,000 pills of illegal drugs in Lai Châu, Điện Biên and Lào Cai provinces.

Dangerous undercover cases

Having been a part of the CNPD since its establishment in 1997, Colonel Nguyễn Đức Thính has gone undercover many times as a playboy or gangster to infiltrate syndicates of drug dealers.

"It's a matter of life and death", said Thính, "I had gun barrels pointed to my head many times because the criminals suspected I was a cop."

Notorious cases such as in Hang Kia, Pà Cò in Hoà Bình Province, Lóng Luông in Sơn La Province were dangerous to the officers, as convicts often fight back with weapons, knowing that if they get arrested, the sentences are severe.

"Đỗ Mạnh Linh, my teammate was shot in a night pursuit of a drug cartel. He passed away right before my eyes," recalled Thính.

But it is not only the weapons are threatening. Many HIV positive criminals used this to their advantage.

"When in pursuit of a convict, he tried to eat a suicide pill. I knew I had to take him back alive for the testimonials, so I put my hand in his mouth. As he is HIV positive, he bit me and I had to receive pre-exposure drugs", said Thính.

Annually, hundreds of anti-drug officers are in danger of being exposed to HIV. They receive pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) immediately, but some had to endure a year of using and enduring the side effects of the drugs. The anxiety of whether or not the treatment worked also takes a toll on the officers.

Having led the CNPD for over ten years, Brigadier General Nguyễn Anh Tuấn, former Head of the CNPD understands the hardships of his comrades.

"I've had death threats, either through phone calls or directly sent to my home," said Tuấn.

"Criminals even planned to plant a bomb at my home and the homes of my colleagues.

"If you get involved with drugs, it's hard to clear your name. Convicts if captured will name people related to their cartel. As officers we knew that: if you get involved with the criminals, your lives, your reputation and your family's reputation will be in jeopardy."

The CNDP and their associates have arrested an average 35,000 criminals annually in 25,000 cases related to drugs. Many of those involve international cartels. The CNPD confiscated a tonne of methamphetamine and thousands of kilos of heroin.

"There are few instances of corrupt officers related to drugs in the police force," said Brigadier General Nguyễn Văn Viện, Head of the CNPD.

"The CNPD, particularly, has recorded no wrongdoing of our officers."

Drug criminals always tried to bribe and corrupt officers in order to get away with their crime, but retaliate with weapons when they don't get their way.

It is imperative that officers in the anti-narcotics divisions must be righteous, truthful, brave and put the needs of the country and the society before their own.

Living directly in the "Golden Triangle" of drug dealing, Việt Nam is facing tremendous pressures in the fight against drugs. The advancements in technology also gave the criminals ways utilise them to their advantage, further making the fight more difficult.

Although blood and tears have been shed, the sacrifices made by the drug officers in this long and hard war have immortalised their image, staying true to the quote of President Hồ Chí Minh as saying "Sacrifice for the country, and serve for the people". — VNS