Most South African drivers have heard of or encountered traffic cops who pull them over and ask for a bribe instead of completing their legal duty.
Some stories even involve police intimidating drivers with false accusations in an effort to solicit bribes.
Corruption may be present in the SAPS, but that does not mean that all traffic officers are corrupt, according to Justice Project South Africa (JPSA) chairperson Howard Dembovsky.
“It should go without saying that not all traffic officers are corrupt, however, equally, not all traffic officers are not,” Dembovsky said.
“The truth of the matter is no-one really knows the full extent of corruption amongst traffic officials, mainly because relatively little is being done to actively combat the situation.”
We asked Dembovsky how drivers should handle a traffic stop, and what they should do if a traffic officer attempts to solicit a bribe from them.
Peace officers and bribery
Dembovsky said that there is a difference between “police” and “peace” officers, and this is important to consider when inspecting the powers of police at traffic stops.
“It is important to note that while all policemen and women are traffic officers (even those in SAPS), not all traffic officers are policemen or women,” he said.
“All traffic officers are peace officers, not ‘police officers’. There is a distinct difference between the two and the powers they possess in view of their official capacity.”
He said that the solicitation of a bribe by a peace officer is a serious crime, and offering a bribe to a peace officer is an equally serious crime.
“Neither is a joking matter, and the penalties imposed on conviction can be considerable and involve lengthy jail terms,” he said.
“In view of the above, as much as it may sound like I am preaching, the very last thing anyone should consider doing is paying a bribe to a cop – or anyone else for that matter.”
Dealing with bribes
Dembovsky said that if you happen to be asked for a bribe, the best course of action is to refuse and to follow up with the SAPS anti-corruption unit.
“The best legal course of action is to refuse to pay the bribe and demand that a written notice, detailing the alleged infringement/offence is issued, failing which you will be on your way,” Dembovsky said.
“If you are threatened with arrest, or you are arrested because you refuse to pay a bribe, cooperate and remember that you will be able to lay formal criminal charges against the cop concerned.”
He added that if a peace officer falsely alleges that you have committed an offence, you should not argue against it, but simply wait for your trial instead.
“The roadside is not a court and a cop is not a magistrate. Respectfully ask for the written notification and sign for it.” Dembovsky said.
“The ‘officer’s’ details will be on it, as will details regarding the trial date and place in the case of the Criminal Procedure Act, or your so-called elective options in terms of the AARTO Act.”
Drivers can report instances of corruption by calling the SAPS national anti-corruption hotline on 082 820 6467. They can also call the RTMC’s hotline on 0861 400 800 or the SAPS emergency call centre on 10111.
Dembovsky stressed that you should not argue or try to negotiate with a traffic offer, as this would not accomplish anything.
“There is a time and place for everything. The right time and place to deal with false allegations and solicitation of bribes is in Court, or by reporting bribe solicitation to the authorities.”