EDITORIAL COMMENT : A bad reputation for a people’s force

Untitled-3POLICE Commissioner-General Dr Augustine Chihuri should not expect to get a gold medal for admitting there are corrupt members in the police force.

However, continuing to deny the obvious would have created credibility problems for him in the end, because motorists and kombi drivers encounter the rotten apples on the country’s highways on a daily basis.

It is not likely that Dr Chihuri will ever be subjected to what amounts to harassment by his officers on our roads.

What we want to commend the commissioner-general for is that on top of acknowledging the existence of a problem, he has also indicated that something is being done.

He told the Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Peace and Security, Home Affairs and Security Services on Monday that a number of corrupt officers had been arrested. Some of them have been dismissed.

The downside to these seemingly drastic measures is that there have been occasions when police officers caught on the wrong side of the law have been redeployed to a different region. It’s like transferring a cancer cell from one part of the body to another.

We hope that is not the case, or if it is, that it comes to an end.

It doesn’t paint an encouraging picture of a police force keen to earn a good reputation with the public.

Then there are as yet unsubstantiated claims about the police operating in patent violation of the Constitution.

It has been claimed that each police station sets a financial target for its officers to raise from roadblocks.

The officers are then forced to look for the tinniest excuse from motorists to raise that money.

This, we are told, explains the police’s insistence on spot fines against recent rulings by the courts.

Comm-Gen Chihuri tried to wriggle out of this, arguing motorists were complicit in bribery cases because they agreed to make token un-receipted payments to individual officers than pay the full cost for the offence later.

That is a simplistic view of the situation on the ground.

Often once the police stop you at a roadblock, they will order you to move off the road. They then ask “to see” your driver’s licence. Once you make the mistake of surrendering it to them you are as good as under arrest. You are virtually held to ransom as they move around checking for the smallest infringement after they are satisfied that your vehicle meets all the statutory requirements.

Unfortunately you can’t drive away without your licence. It is then that sometimes a driver is forced to pay a bribe. People get on to the road because they have business to do. They don’t want to spend the whole day parked by a road side because police won’t return their driver’s licence.

The other dimension is that a police officer starts writing a ticket for an offence without your prior admission of guilt. You are then asked whether you accept the offence or you want to go to court.

That is where most Zimbabwean motorists go watery at the knees. They would rather part with their hard earned cash than contemplate the prospect of appearing in court. The usual excuse is that the process is time consuming, and traffic police seem to take advantage of this to get the cash they want.

Comm-Gen Chihuri did explain to the parliamentary committees that the force received only a drop of $3 million from Treasury.

We all appreciate the role the police play in maintaining law and order and providing citizens in general with security. Where we have a problem is when the police make driving on Zimbabwe’s roads seem like an offence.

Why should all motorists be presumed guilty till proven innocent? The sheer number of roadblocks on our roads bear testimony to that: no matter how much you try to be law-abiding, they are bound to find some offence, hence accusations that police are on a fundraising campaign on the roads. It’s a bad reputation for what should be a people’s police force.

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