At 10 a.m. one recent morning the 62-year-old veteran put on a gray jacket and headed out to Thanh Xuan District to meet one of his patrol team members, who was waiting on a motorbike.
At first glance the two appeared to be typical seniors. People did not know they were patrolling the area with the Khuong Mai Ward police. Officers were driving ahead in a car and the two followed close behind.
Then Hung noticed two neatly dressed older men on a motorbike and directed his colleague to follow them.
After driving around for some time the two suspects stopped on Nguyen Ngoc Nai Street. The person riding pillion removed his glasses, pulled out a small tool the size of a finger, approached a parked motorbike and broke its lock in seconds.
When he was about to steal the motorbike, Hung jumped off the motorbike and knocked the man down. His colleague and the officers had meanwhile handcuffed the other suspect.
Hoang Manh Thang, chief of the Khuong Mai Ward police, says: “Hung has very sharp instincts in detecting potential thieves. Sometimes younger officers miss out but not Hung.”
Hung says: “I have not caught anyone wrongly in the last 15 years. Thieves who plan to steal motorbikes often drive around a few times. Drug dealers are trickier but also not that difficult to identify.”
In 2003 Khuong Mai Ward set up a local patrol team that would coordinate with the police to keep order and security. It had five members with Hung being the leader.
“There are many thieves out there. Since I am a veteran and have lots of free time, I want to do something good for the public.”
As volunteers he and his team receive no money.
Dong Thi Hue, Hung’s wife, says: “Even in cold weather he goes if someone calls to report a burglary. Over the past 15 years he has not been at home much around Lunar New Year.”
Hung says the most devious among criminals are drug dealers.
He sometimes assumes a playboy person to visit nightclubs and bars to find criminals.
“One time I caught a drug dealer, and he was trying to stuffed narcotics into his mouth to destroy the evidence. I was angry and put my hands into his mouth to pull out the drugs.” He shows a scar on his thumb as a result of being bitten.
Tools and weapons seized by Hung and police officers after they busted a gang of robbers in June 2019. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Van Hung.
Around 10 years ago during criminal raids, he was twice treated for HIV exposure with post-exposure prophylaxis.
“When we cornered and blocked two motorbike thieves, they threatened saying ‘I have HIV. I will hurt you if you don’t let me go’.”
“But letting them escape like that would be cowardly. So I and a fellow officer rushed over to tackle them. Both of us sustained scratches. I have to take antiretroviral medicines to prevent becoming infected.”
He kept the three-month-long treatment a secret from his wife and children because of the fear of worrying them and also possible stigma and separation from them. At night he would go and sleep at the ward police headquarters.
“Addiction to anything is difficult to give up. Including addiction to arresting robbers.”
A day before Lunar New Year last year Hung was threatened by a gangster who said he would come back for him after being released from prison three years later.
“Though I have been threatened many times, their parents appreciate what I do to stop them. They say, ‘Thanks for locking him up and putting him in jail. That drug-addicted gangster child of mine is tearing down the whole family’.”
Hoang Tuyen, 54, a team member, says: “I am also a veteran but I am not as dedicated as Hung. I see him drive around patrolling the street every day come rain or shine. It is hard to find people like him nowadays.”
Hung and team have helped the police crack more than 300 cases of robbery, drug trafficking, prostitution, and others.
He was honored with Hanoi’s Outstanding Citizen Award in 2016 and the Good People, Good Deeds title in 2019.
He recently returned to patrol duty after being in hospital for a week.
“The passion is still in me, but my health is gradually becoming poor. All five members of the team are between 57 and 62.”
There was one time when he had to wait in a cemetery all night for a criminal. He is not sure how much longer he will be up to doing such things.
“It is sad but I still have not found anyone from the younger generations to continue this mission.”