Chief Court Reporter
Strips of spikes used by police to stop vehicles refusing to obey orders to halt are fully legal and any court trying to ban them would be tantamount to legalising crime and disempowering police from maintaining law and order, the High Court has ruled.
The Passengers Association of Zimbabwe had sued police, seeking an interdict prohibiting officers from using the strips of spikes and smashing windscreens of private taxis to halt pirate taxis and kombis, saying that this conduct endangered the lives of the public and causes blatant unlawful and malicious damage to private property police are supposed to protect.
Police have implemented internal procedures that have limited the use of spikes and teargas and stopped the smashing of windscreens for traffic violations.
But spikes are seen as an effective way of halting a vehicle whose driver refuses to stop when ordered to, and a way of halting a vehicle using minimum force.
Police introduced spikes to replace the use of firearms, which could cause unintended injury or death.
Spikes deflate all tyres of a vehicle, bringing it to a halt, but without the risks entailed when police shoot at a vehicle’s tyres and miss. In most cases a driver seeing spikes across the road decides to obey the halt order given rather than try and escape.
Police needing to use spikes are now expected to follow procedures set out in the Police Weapons and Equipment Coin and I.S Manual (Methods and Frequency), a handbook for police officers, which provides instructions on how they should use their weapons and equipment.
In this regard, police only resort to spikes to deal with pirate taxis that are breaching important road rules, endangering many lives, and which refuse to halt.
It was on this basis that Justice Owen Tagu refused to grant the application by PAZ, finding that for the court to do so would be to sanitise crime and disempower the police from enforcing law and order.
“To grant the application would be tantamount to legalising the actions of these errant motorists as the police would be incapacitated to deal with them,” he said.
The court accepted the police argument that operators of pirate taxis, commonly known as mushikashika, were not just committing traffic offences but other crimes that could be classified as more dangerous.
Some of the crimes include drug abuse, harassment of commuters especially women, and theft and robberies committed by people in the unregistered vehicles, which are mostly driven by immature and unlicensed drivers.
Police also argued that the conduct of the pirate taxis had resulted in a spike of pedestrian deaths, as they are run over by vehicles fleeing police officers.
Police further argued that touts employed by errant drivers, assault and kill police officers when they try to impound their vehicles and arrest the violators.
Through its legal counsel, PAZ argued that police should be barred from practising this “rudimentary” and “barbaric” way of enforcing traffic offence law.
The organisation further criticised the police conduct which they said had caused harm to passengers of the public and private vehicles and in some cases, the death of victims.
To this end, it is their submission that PAZ had reasonable apprehension that the security of more passengers was endangered, private property would be damaged and there was no effective alternative remedy in the circumstances except approaching the court for relief.