Daniel Nemukuyu Senior Court Reporter
Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri has said the use of spikes at roadblocks is a necessary defence for traffic police officers who risk being run over by unruly motorists amid claims that at least 36 officers were either killed or injured on the country’s roads last year.
Dr Chihuri said the practice was not exclusive to the Zimbabwe Republic Police.
He was responding to an application by human rights activist Mr Okay Machisa to have the use of spikes to deflate vehicles at roadblocks declared unconstitutional.
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Comm-Gen Chihuri said the practice was justified and was supported by a section of the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act, which provides for the use of minimum force.
“During the period stretching from January to December 2016, a total of 36 police officers were deliberately and negligently killed or maimed manning roadblocks countrywide and these perpetrators, who, with constructive intent, run over police officers, intentionally do not stop despite having committed such serious offences,” said Comm-Gen Chihuri.
“They (spikes) act as a deterrent, and are due to the alarming figures of killed or maimed police officers carrying out official duties.
“It is my submission that there should be a way of allowing these defenceless officers to defend themselves where the situation calls for and this can be achieved by the use of minimum force,” reads Comm-Gen Chihuri’s opposing affidavit.
The police chief said spikes were used cautiously and only in extreme cases.
“It is submitted that when using spikes, members of the ZRP are called upon to exercise cautiousness and reasonability and only use spikes in extreme cases.
“These spikes are not dangerously thrown, but as already alluded to, they are laid on the ground upon a vehicle being stopped,” reads the opposing affidavit.
Responding to Mr Machisa’s suggestion that traffic police officers should simply note down the registration numbers of the fleeing vehicles, the Dr Chihuri said the suggestion was theoretical.
“It is submitted that due to the extreme lawlessness that has become the order of the day, there is a lot of fake number plates being used resulting in challenges when making a follow-up in that some of these plates can hardly be traced or alternatively, do not exist at all in the system,” he said.
“Its (suggestion) implementation remains more or less theoretical than practical especially considering that the errant motorists are evading a roadblock at high speed or alternatively has knocked down a police officer,” Comm-Gen Chihuri said.
Grabbing a pen, piece of paper and trying to memorise the registration number, the police boss said, was not practical when the offender was speeding.
The use of spikes, according to Comm-Gen Chihuri, was an effective traffic enforcement method internationally and in Zimbabwe it is governed by police reference and source books used in police training and police operations.
“It also emanates from the use of minimum force as governed by an Act of Parliament, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to be precise,” reads the opposing affidavit.
Comm-Gen Chihuri said spikes were also necessary to restore order in Harare’s central business district and other towns.
“It is my fervent belief that the use of spikes is necessary, reasonably justifiable and proportionate in view of the general hostility and lawlessness by the motoring public that have become a menace especially in Harare’s CBD and other towns.
“Such lawlessness has led to vehicles picking and dropping passengers at undesignated places (both public service and private vehicles commonly known as mushika-shika).
“Some end up driving against One Way, speeding and in general disregard of police roadblocks, police signs and road signs, some riding on bumpers, tail gates. The list is endless,” reads the opposing affidavit.
Last month Zimbabwe Human Rights Association director Mr Machisa filed an application at the High Court challenging the constitutionality of police using spikes at roadblocks, saying the practice had the potential of damaging property, injuring or killing people.
In the court application, Comm-Gen Chihuri and Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo were listed respondents in their official capacities.
Mr Machisa wants an order declaring the practice unconstitutional. He also seeks another order prohibiting the practice with immediate effect.
The activist said the use of spikes or any other deflating devices was not supported by legislation.
Mr Machisa argued that justifiable or minimum force was employed in serious offences but that most traffic offences were minor, fineable and did not warrant drastic measures like spike-throwing.
Throwing spikes without compunction, the activist said, was a violation of the right to administrative justice as enshrined in Section 68 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe.