Thursday, November 03, 2005

Are South African police out of control?

Police all over the world take bribes and abuse their power. But South Africa's low pay conditions and disillusionment over unsuccessful prosecution after hard police work seem to have bred far greater levels of corruption.

Some of you may have seen the Special Assignment (South African news actuality program) on corruption at the Booysens Police office where illegal immigrants are regularly rounded up and then bribes are solicited.

Many of us will have heard of a friend caught beyond the legal blood alcohol limit who managed to bribe their way out of trouble.

But it was a shock to me on Tuesday night when I got pulled over and the cops went out of their way to find something to pin me for. Sadly they didn't have to go far because it was one in the morning and I had just nipped out to drop a friend off at their hotel. I didn't take my wallet as the drive is literally five minutes. And my driver's license was in my wallet.

The conversation:

Police: Mr IITQ, good morning (they'd got my details from their database before pulling me over.
Me: Good evening officer.
Police: I see this car is registered in Bedfordview, have you moved?
Me: No, the car dealer registered the car and they are in Bedfordview.
Police: Ah. Can I see your driver's license please? (meanwhile other officer is inspecting my registration disk - I thank the lord that is up to date).
Me: I'm really sorry officer, I just nipped out and didn't take my driver's license with me.
Police: Ah. That is a problem you see. Do you have any other form of ID?
Me: Sorry officer, no.
Police: Mr IITQ this is a problem. You see, if I give you a fine you could give me the wrong details and disappear. I have to take you back to the police station. Is there anybody who can come bring your driver's license?
Me: No sorry officer - I live alone.
Police: Mr IITQ, this inspector here will drive with you to the police station and we will have to lock you up for the night.
Me (irritated as I know these are all scare tactics to push me into offering a bribe): Officer, I know I have done wrong. But I left for such a quick drive that I did not even bring my wallet (true and signals I cannot pay them). I am afraid you will have to take me to the station and I will have to call my lawyer (escalates the issue to a level I knew they did not want to go to).
Police: Mr IITQ, once you have spent a night under those grey blankets, I promise you won't forget your license again. Next time, bring your license. You can go.

Man I was angry. And a little scared at how vulnerable a normal law abiding citizen is to an abuse of police power. Of course I was in the wrong, but being locked up in a South African police cell is a serious issue - and unwarranted for a misdemeanor offence.


kyknoord said...

I'm not surprised you were angry. I've heard quite a few variations on this theme lately and yet, the police can't understand why the public are reluctant to help them when real crimes are commited.

ChittyChittyBangBang! said...

Traffic cops aren't reasonable & helping ppl is the least of their concern. That is why they go to great lengths to catch perps rather than focussing on prevention and saving lives.
They are also trained to ask the silliest questions, all designed to make you look like an idiot.
It's a good thing you kept your cool. There is no reasoning with them.

tripeak said...

WTF! Dude – at least you stayed calm and reserved. Two weeks ago I saw a taxi driving (speeding) in the emergency lane right past a metro police vehicle… they did nothing, then shortly after that a guy with one of his tale lights out got pulled over – if the hand gestures was anything to go seemed like he was harassed by the two officers.

andrea said...

I obviously can't comment on the SA police, but I certainly have a great deal of respect now for the SA male who thinks on his feet. You and Chitty could get rich giving seminars.

It is the question said...

Kyknoord: Yes, and that's exactly what I was thinking - how many crimes were being committed while they were looking for someone to earn some money off.

CCBT: They weren't traffic cops - they were SAPS. It is critical to keep your cool - always remember who has the power.

Tripeak: I bloody hate it when I'm sitting in bumper to bumper traffic and a taxi speeds past in the emergency lane. I always have to remind myself that not all taxi drivers are out-and-out hooligans.

Andrea: Maybe living in SA is good for that!

Reluctant Nomad said...

During last week, there was a clip on British TV about Britain's most successful cop in terms of the number of arrests made. He's a South African guy, ex-Joburg, now based in the smallish Midlands town of Mansfield. He rushes around on his bike arresting all and sundry, says it's a breeze after his 20-odd years of being a policeman in Joburg.

Are all the good SA policemen (being an old-fashioned lefty, I'd have said such a beast never existed!!) moving or does it take them to be in a different environment to actually be good?

Anonymous said...

A mildly off-topic comment.
The solution to the taxi-problem is in our hands.
Start obeying the speed-limit. Always.
No exceptions.
Dry up their source of income and they'll be forced to resort to the notoriously bad-finepaying taxis.
The next time the needle eases over the 60/80/100/120 mark, it will be your opportunity to make the choice.
Choose wisely.