The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) Public Information Office has attributed what appears to be a decrease in criminal activity in 2020 to “improvement in law enforcement, public awareness, and cooperation”.

Law statistics provided by the MOJ show a notable decrease in documented criminal offenses over the past few years, with numbers nearly halving between 2017 and 2020. In almost all categories of offenses, 2020 shows a drop in numbers from previous years, with crimes like larcenies and thefts, vehicle collisions, and assault all demonstrating a decrease from 2018 to the present.

The MOJ’s attribution of this to an improvement in law enforcement is lent credence by the fact that a slew of specialized task forces and agencies, such as the Narcotics Enforcement Agency (NEA), the Anti-Human Trafficking Office, and the cyber-crime unit, have all been created within the Ministry within the last three years. The MOJ has also made efforts to launch outreach programs in schools intended to educate students on the consequences of unlawful action.

The past year also brought border closures, which is expected to have had a direct impact on several types of crime. Larcenies and thefts, for instance, are shown to have decreased significantly between just 2019 and 2020, with documented offenses dropping from 233 to 148.

A 2019 report by the Overseas Security Advisory Council of the US Department of State linked burglary in Palau to tourism, stating that most cases of theft involve unattended items in hotels and at Palau International Airport.

“Criminals may perceive [foreigners] as wealthier, making them more attractive targets of opportunity,” the report states.

The closure of borders has also affected the number of drug-smuggling incidents, with the main means of drug import currently cut off. However, Director Ismael Aguon of the NEA has said that while the import of hard drugs like methamphetamine, most of which comes from the US, has slowed, it has not altogether stopped, with some drugs entering through mail and cargo containers.

The NEA has been stepping up its efforts to battle the increasingly “complex” methods of drug-smuggling, through means such as enhanced detection equipment and the K9 working-dogs which are currently being trained to work alongside NEA officers in narcotic detection.

Statistics on criminal citations for 2020 show that violations against Title 42 of the Palau National Code (PNC) Index, vehicle-related citations, make up 74% of the total number of citations throughout the year. The report from the MOJ shows 880 vehicle-related citations within the past year alone.

MOJ Chief of Staff Ernest Ongidobel has expressed concern over the number of car crashes and drunk-driving incidents in Palau, emphasizing that, while the police force is doing its best to prevent accidents, it does not have enough resources to “be all over Palau at once”. He urged people to be responsible, saying that, despite increased efforts by the MOJ to monitor traffic, reckless driving continues to be a serious problem in Palau. 

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